“Blaine for the Win” (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 336 pp., out Tuesday) features Blaine as its Elle Woods-like protagonist. Elle (played by Reese Witherspoon in the film) chases her sleazy ex-boyfriend all the way to Harvard Law School to prove she’s “serious” and finds her own powerful, passionate voice in the process. Blaine tries to grab the attention of his sleazy ex-boyfriend by running for senior class president – but we won’t spoil what transpires when his plan hits a few snags.
Couch aimed to comfort readers (and himself) with a romantic comedy to escape the dreary days of COVID fatigue. “Legally Blonde” is one of his favorite romantic comedies, though one not without its flaws, therefore perfect for an offshoot.
“It’s still such a delightful story and one that I was so excited to tell in my own way with a queer twist to it,” Couch says over a Zoom call earlier this month. Eagle-eyed readers won’t have trouble finding a few direct lines from the film sprinkled in the text.
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The book’s drama comes from the election itself and how Blaine’s candidacy affects his friends, family and penchant for painting murals in small and significant ways. What happens when his selfishness proves a stumbling block to his Aunt Starr’s happiness, or strains his relationship with best friend Trish? And is his bisexual friend Danny more than just someone helping out with Blaine’s election campaign?
Readers will revel in picking up the book’s analogues to the film. Ex-boyfriend Joey in the book resembles Warner in the film, as new love interest Danny recalls Emmett and competition Zach does Vivian. Expect to hate on Joey – “I would still absolutely consider him the antagonist and someone you’re not necessarily rooting for,” Couch says – but maybe he’s not as evil as Warner.
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Zach may serve as Blaine’s nemesis in both the election and in his pursuit of Joey – aka a cut-and-dry villain. But like Vivian in “Legally Blonde,” there’s more under the surface.
“Once you start to really explore the nuances of any character, you’re much more likely to find the good, the bad and the ugly in all of them,” Couch adds.
The ugliness in “Blaine,” however, does not creep into any homophobic territory. No explicit homophobia exists on the page like it did in Couch’s first novel, “The Sky Blues.”
“‘Blaine’ certainly has its challenges, but none of those challenges are directly related to family rejection at home or homophobic bullies at school,” Couch says.
“Legally Blonde” in particular deserves a queer retelling. One scene in the film involving the outing of a character on the witness stand sends an explicit message to young queer people that self-expression has catastrophic consequences.
Couch’s reimagining undos some of this harm, offering a new audience something “slightly less problematic.”
He doesn’t mean to imply, however, that a homophobia-free world exists – “it’s more of an aspirational way of writing the story.” But “it does reflect changing attitudes where many kids today can come out as queer to really accepting families, and really accepting communities, and have great friends and support systems in their school,” Couch adds. “Clearly, that’s not the case across the board by any means. But we are seeing more of that. And wanted to highlight that and celebrate that with Blaine’s story a bit more than you saw with ‘The Sky Blues.'”
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As anti-LGBTQ legislation ramps up around the U.S., the search for joyful stories of all kinds couldn’t be more pressing.
“Highlighting queer joy is especially important right now, because we’re seeing these horrific policies in states like Texas and Florida, that are really, in my opinion, using LGBTQ kids and particularly trans kids as punching bags, just for certain leaders to gain political points,” Couch says. “And it’s pretty terrifying.”
While unsurprising, it “makes the need for these sorts of books that much more important, to have books accessible, to have stories in all mediums accessible for young kids,” Couch adds, “especially for young LGBTQ people.”
You heard Couch: time to queer up your bookshelf.