YA fiction: Jarlath Gregory’s novel isn’t just about love – it’s about hope

Picks from Andy Robb, Mary HK Choi, Lize Meddings, Zoe Sugg and Amy McCulloch

Like Jarlath Gregory’s other novels, What Love Looks Like is profoundly politically and socially engaged without getting heavy-handed

Like Jarlath Gregory’s other novels, What Love Looks Like is profoundly politically and socially engaged without getting heavy-handed

It has been 20 years since the publication of Jarlath Gregory’s debut novel, Snapshots, set in his home county of Armagh and depicting gay lives and loves against the backdrop of conservative Catholicism and a still-fragile peace. We’ve come a long way since then in relation to LGBTQ+ rights, we’re likely to say today, patting ourselves on the back – particularly if we forget that it’s only in the past year that same-sex marriage was legalised in Northern Ireland.

What Love Looks Like (O’Brien Press, €12.99), Gregory’s latest novel, set in Dublin, offers up a nod to the disparity with the character of Peter – love interest of the protagonist, Ben, and hailing from “one of those scary places on the Border” where “everyone is kind of crazy religious”. Ben, in contrast, is out to his family and receives often-embarrassing dating advice from his stepfather and mother. It’s the summer of 2015 and the people of Ireland – as the opening sentence reminds us – have just voted to let gay people get married.

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