The ‘Legally Blonde’ Queer Narrative You Need
Author Robbie Couch decided to loosely base his second YA novel on the 2001 movie “Legally Blonde.” What, like that’s hard, you might ask?
“Blaine for the Win” (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 336 pp., forthcoming Tuesday) features Blaine as its protagonist in the manner of Elle Woods. She (played by Reese Witherspoon in the film) chases her sleazy ex-boyfriend to Harvard Law School to prove she’s “serious” and finds her own powerful, passionate voice in the process. Blaine is trying to get the attention of his sleazy ex-boyfriend by running for senior class president — but we won’t spoil what happens when his plan hits a few snags.
Couch aimed to comfort readers (and himself) with a rom-com to escape the dreary days of COVID fatigue. “Legally Blonde” is one of her favorite rom-coms, though it’s not without its flaws, so perfect for an offshoot.
“It’s still such a delightful story and a story that I was so excited to tell in my own way with a weird twist,” Couch said on a Zoom call earlier this month. Informed readers will have no trouble finding a few direct lines from the film sprinkled throughout the text.
Have you read Couch’s first novel? You should: ‘The Sky Blues’ Is The Queer YA Romantic Comedy You’ve Been Waiting For
The drama of the book comes from the election itself and how Blaine’s candidacy affects his friends, family, and fondness for the mural in small and meaningful ways. What happens when his selfishness proves a stumbling block to his Aunt Starr’s happiness or strains his relationship with his best friend Trish? And is his bisexual friend Danny more than just helping Blaine’s campaign?
Readers will revel in picking up analogues from the book to the movie. Ex-boyfriend Joey in the book resembles Warner in the film, while new love interest Danny reminisces about Emmett and competition Zach does Vivian. Expect to hate Joey – “I would still consider him the antagonist and someone you don’t necessarily support,” Couch says – but maybe he’s not as evil as Warner.
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Zach can serve as Blaine’s nemesis both in the election and in his pursuit of Joey – aka a die-hard villain. But like Vivian in “Legally Blonde,” there’s more beneath the surface.
“Once you start to really explore the nuances of a character, you’re much more likely to find the good, the bad, and the ugly in each of them,” Couch adds.
The ugliness in “Blaine,” however, doesn’t creep into any homophobic territory. No explicit homophobia exists on the page as in Couch’s first novel, “The Sky Blues”.
“‘Blaine’ certainly has his challenges, but none of those challenges are directly related to family rejection at home or homophobic bullies at school,” Couch said.
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“Legally Blonde” in particular deserves a weird tale. A scene in the film involving a character stepping out on the witness stand sends an explicit message to young gay men that self-expression has catastrophic consequences.
Couch’s reimagining negates some of that evil, offering a new audience something “slightly less problematic.”
He doesn’t mean, however, that a world without homophobia exists – “it’s more of an ambitious way to write history”. But “it reflects changing attitudes where many kids today can be quirky about truly accepting families and communities, and having good friends and support systems in their school,” Couch adds. “Obviously that’s not the case in every area by any means. But we’re seeing more of that. And I wanted to highlight that and celebrate that with Blaine’s story a little more than you’ve seen with “The Sky Blues”.”
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As anti-LGBTQ legislation escalates across the United States, the search for happy stories of all kinds couldn’t be more pressing.
“Highlighting queer joy is especially important right now because we see these horrific policies in states like Texas and Florida, which I think are really using LGBTQ kids and especially trans kids as punching bags, just for some leaders to earn political points,” Couch says. “And that’s pretty terrifying.”
While that’s not surprising, it “makes the need for these kinds of books all the more important, to have accessible books, to have stories in all mediums accessible to young children,” Couch adds, ” especially for LGBTQ youth.”
You heard Couch: it’s time to clean up your bookshelf.
And while you’re at it:‘Decolonize your library’: Small bookcases and bookboxes foster conversation about race in America