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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at NYU chapter.

“Hot Boy Summer,” the new novel by Joe Jimenez, follows four gay teens in Texas who have the summer of their lives while discovering important truths about belonging and friendship in this joyful young adult contemporary novel for fans of Adam Silvera and Becky Albertalli.

Mac has never really felt like he belonged. Definitely not at home—his dad’s politics and toxic masculinity make a real connection impossible. He thought he fit in on the baseball team, but that’s only because he was pretending to be someone he wasn’t. Finding his first gay friend, Cammy, was momentous; finally, he could be his authentic self around someone else. But as it turned out, not really. Cammy could be cruel, and his “advice” often came off way harsh.

Then, Mac meets Flor, who shows him that you can be both fierce and kind, and Mikey, who is superhot and might maybe think the same about him. Over the course of one hot, life-changing summer, Mac will stand face-to-face with desire, betrayal, and letting go of shame, which will lead to some huge discoveries about the realness of truly belonging.

“Hot Boy Summer” offers a tale as important as hope itself: four gay teens doing what they can to connect and have the fiercest summer of their lives. New friendships will be forged, hot boys will be kissed…and the toxic will be detoxed.

Joe Jimenez is the author of the poetry collection “Rattlesnake Allegory” and the young adult novels “Hot Boy Summer” and “Bloodline.” He was the recipient of the 2016 Letras Latinas/Red Hen Press Poetry Prize, and he was awarded a Lucas Artists Literary Artists Fellowship. His writing has appeared on the PBS NewsHour and Lambda Literary sites. Joe lives in San Antonio, Texas, where he is a high school English teacher and a member of the Macondo Writers Workshop.


For this interview, I wanted to hear Jimenez’s thoughts on writing prose after writing poetry, how Texas fits into the LGBTQ+ world and being mentored by literary icon Sandra Cisneros for his new book. 

What was the hardest part of writing prose for you? What did you learn about yourself when you wrote a different genre?

In writing “Hot Boy Summer,” the hardest part of jumping to prose from poetry has been learning how to better structure a story, especially a novel. I think my background in poetry helps me focus on making scenes and building and fine-tuning images and sentences, however, putting together a novel is such a different endeavor than assembling a poetry collection, and in no way do I believe I’m an expert in either. Sure, in both, the pieces all have to fit together and hopefully they cohere in ways that give impact, and in “Hot Boy Summer,” I struggled initially to really pull a cohesive story together. What I learned was to focus my scenes on what each character wants from that moment and to consider what they just wanted, lost, or gained in the previous scenes and what they would be wanting, losing, or gaining in the moments to come.

That was one of the most valuable lessons on character-making that I’ve learned, and I learned it from Christian Trimmer, the wonderful editor I worked with at MTV Books. This approach also helped me create a more cohesive story rather than just writing a bunch of scenes I liked and then trying to glue them together and call it a book. I know better now thanks to Christian and his keen commitment to editing and teaching. 

Summer is often a season of what-ifs and adventure. Do you have any crazy iconic summer memories in San Antonio that are dear to your heart or perhaps some you fantasized about that inspired scenes in “Hot Boy Summer?”

Honestly, “Hot Boy Summer” is my French Vanilla Fantasy of friendship and living unapologetically. I didn’t have a great experience in high school, and in many ways  “Hot Boy Summer” is my response to the bullying and hate I faced at school and at home when I was growing up. In this way, if I was 17 or 18 today, I’d have a group of gay friends and our best girlfriends to stand at my side if people walked behind me, as they did when I was in high school, talking about how they wanted to go out and “kill some faggots”. 

As for “crazy iconic summer memories in San Antonio,” yes! The chapter where Mac, Mikey, Flor, Cammy, Hermelinda, and Kanari all go to Pride is “110 def,” to quote Flor, what my friendship dreams are made of. I love a good day party all-sunshine friendship moment, and I think I have some of the best friends on Earth, so in writing about the goodness a friend group can bring to the world I certainly drew inspiration from the hope and belonging my best gay friends and my best girlfriends have made me feel over the years. 

Today, I’m fortunate to be surrounded by happiness  and people with good hearts who want the best for each other, and I wrote with the notion that this kind of goodness is something every human deserves. And that’s kind of a strange thing to say, maybe, this idea that everybody deserves goodness in their life, because for so long so many of us have been told that we don’t deserve love and acceptance or that we have to be these perfect little people in order to be worthy. As I worked on HBS, I kept a Post-It next to me that read: #hopeandbelonging. From eating breakfast tacos on the daily with my work wife Lanye to dancing to Gaga and getting hyped hearing Ariana Grande at Pride with my BFF Howie, these memories are dear to my heart, and so why not write about them? I’ve learned that often the most powerful writing is the stuff first made of fear but transformed into hope.

Your book feels like a love letter to Ariana Grande at times. Are there any other pop icons you can tease the audience with to entice them to pick up your novel?

Guilty as charged. Eternal Ariana Grande stan here. Por vida and always. And I’m also so into Dua Lipa, Kim Petras, Britney, Ava Max. I could go on and on. Honestly, I’m a sucker for any circuit remix with heavy vocals, fast bpms, and high rises—today at the gym it was leg day, and my Soundcloud was giving me DJs Anne Louise and Isis Muretech. #sooogood! If anyone’s looking for high-energy workout music, I vouch, because these artists’ sets really send me. Of course, I also fan hard for Cardi and Meghan and Nicki, all of whom Mac, Mikey, Flor, and Cammy get into, especially Cammy, who goes to bat hard for them, and Mac, who refers to “WAP” as “an American classic.” I couldn’t agree more. 

In fact, as I was working on  “Hot Boy Summer,” I sometimes thought about the day I played “WAP” for my husband. We were in the Panera parking lot, and I was talking about how much I live for Cardi and Meghan, and he was like who? what? why? So, to satisfy his curiosity and to justify my love for these icons, I played the video and reviewed the lyrics with him. He was gagged in the way only a fifty year old white man experiencing this kinda fierceness for the very first time can be gagged. We talked about pushback these artists received from people wanting to control their bodies and voices and how many women and younger people and lots of queer people embrace the message of unapologetically living life on our terms, especially in the face of those who would prefer us to be silent or ashamed. Our “WAP” convo in the Panera parking lot was a core moment for sure, because it was literally our two worlds colliding, and I love that music and books can provide opportunities for these conversations and help shift people’s outlook on body autonomy and joy and what it means to be a human navigating all the complexities of the world today.

And one last mention of pop icons I wrote about in HBS. Of course, as a Gaga fan, I had to write about one of my favorite all-time Pride memories with my friends and that’s hearing Gaga’s “Always Remember Us This Way”, which always sends me. I remember hearing Gaga’s song remixed at a festival with my friends before the Pandemic and then listening to Gaga’s song again during the lockdown when I missed my friends and the life we had before so badly, and everything was so uncertain and changing, and if I think of really great American songs about connections and belonging—whether it’s romantic love or chosen family—this is one of the great songs. For Mac, Mikey, Flor, Cammy, Hermelinda, and Kanari, it’s a song that captures their hope, their joy, and their sense of belonging.

Texas is a state that doesn’t protect the LGBTQ+ community as much as other states. What was it like writing about four gay teens who are having their hot boy summer in Texas?

I hear you. When I think about the current climate for LGBTQ+ people in Texas, I remind myself that cities like San Antonio—where queer people can for the most part feel safe and exercise freedoms that all people deserve—are not the norm in many of our states. 

When I think of Mac’s character or of Flor’s, I remember that all around the world there are people who feel lonely and ashamed and fearful because we don’t live up to society’s standards for us, because of hate and bigotry and injustice, and for this reason, books and movies that promote messages of hope and belonging really do make a difference. These stories may be fictional and they may be just a start, yet presenting people with possibilities for a better world is precisely why representation in pop culture matters to so many of us. 

Although  “Hot Boy Summer” is fiction, I think the emotions of hope and belonging, self-acceptance and joy are very real, as are the kinds of conflicts Mac and his dad face. Dads can be difficult to understand, and this is certainly true for Mac, who feels a whole range of tensions regarding his dad and not living up to his dad’s expectations. 

Here, I hope readers see the complexities of Mac’s dad and not just reduce him to an antagonist or a villain— he’s a single-dad busting his ass to provide for his family and he’s also underpaid and overworked and lonely and disappointed, too, when his son comes out because he had all these dreams for how his hard work and sacrifice were going to eventually pay off through his son, and it’s not to justify his homophobia or his violence, not at all, but I hope the character of Mac’s dad offers some insight maybe to how parents, like some of ours, can get consumed with fear and disappointment and anger when kids whom they dearly love tell them we’re not going to live these lives they dreamed up and planned for us because we have to be the people we were meant to be. I think this happens all over America, all over the world, everyday. I think a really sad thing in America right now is that many of us see our family members as enemies, and does it really have to be this way? Who benefits from Americans, from families, seeing each other as enemies? It’s not everyday people like us.

According to your Acknowledgements section, Sandra Cisneros was your mentor for “Hot Boy Summer.” What was it like working with a literary icon? How did working with her change the way you write or think about writing?

So, I have the great fortune of having Sandra Cisneros as a mentor. Sandra is incredibly generous and wise and inspiring to so many people, and after I published my first novel Bloodline, Sandra invited me to dinner at the Liberty Bar here in San Antonio. While she was incredibly complimentary of Bloodline, which is a Chicanx retelling of Hamlet, she also noted that she was expecting something different. She asked why I hadn’t written about my real stuff, why I hadn’t written about a gay character. 

Immediately, I thought, OMG, is Sandra Cisneros reading me?! Needless to say I was a little bit gagged, but I loved it and appreciated it and listened to the feedback, because yeah, it was coming from Sandra, a literary juggernaut, and she’s iconic, but also because I genuinely want to improve as a storyteller. Sandra asked an honest question, one that she asked with pure cariño, and she shared, as she has with others, that I needed to write about “My 10,” or the ten things I know about life that I can uniquely and profoundly write about. Eagerly, I took the note and ran with it. 

When I got home, I sat at my husband’s desk and made my list of ten. I included things like breakfast tacos, fake friends, Shakespeare, working out, basketball shorts, Ariana Grande, and Drag Race. Prior to my conversation with Sandra, I don’t think I’d given any of these things value in the literary world (except Shakespeare, of course) and so, the instant I started to see the possibilities of making stories about fake friends and loneliness and a person’s want to belong and the joy of finally experiencing that belonging, everything changed. The next morning when I sat at my computer, I imagined what my three best friends and I would’ve been like in high school. Thinking of Sandra’s consejos, I decided to write a really, really gay book, the gayest book I could possibly write, and the first lines I wrote were, “Okay, girls. Here are the rules. #1 Ariana Grande is everything. #2 Valentina is queen. And #3 Loyalty is love and love is forever.” It was the start of Hot Boy Summer.

In this way, Sandra’s consejos helped me find literary value in parts of my life and of my community that I hadn’t really seen as literary before. I mean, when I was younger, I never imagined myself as a writer. I really just wanted to get a good, steady job, drive a truck, get married, have some dogs, and buy a house with a really great backyard. In regards to advice for aspiring writers, I think my journey into writing is rooted in being a lifelong learner. And one of the ways I’ve expressed being a lifelong learner is by joining the Macondo Writers Workshop, which is an annual gathering of writers “who believe in changing the world” and was created by Sandra in 1995. Through Macondo, I’ve learned that while some people can write on an island and can do so quite successfully, I’m not that guy. I need a community, I need connections, I need belonging. 

Thank you so much Joe Jimenez for answering my questions. Personally, I love Ariana Grande and Sandra Cisneros so it was cool to hear your thoughts on both queens! I’d also like to thank Mitch Thorpe from Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing for extending this interview opportunity to me.

Sabrina Blandon is an English major at NYU with a minor in creative writing. Avid reader herself and literary advocate, she has interviewed over 60 authors from New York Times bestselling ones to debut authors for Her Author Spotlight blog series for Her Campus NYU and Her Campus Hofstra. She loves exploring everything New York City has to offer and is a major foodie.