One Summer in Vancouver is a coming out story set against the backdrop of Vancouver’s Gay Games, which were held in 1990. At 17, Tom is struggling to come out – both to himself and his parents. Days before the Gay Games opening ceremonies, he runs away from his home in Mississauga, Ontario, and flies off to Vancouver, where he hopes to stay in the West End with his Uncle Fred, who is out and proud. As the Games begin, Vancouver is suddenly bustling with activity, people, and gay pride. Tom meets two queer teens, Dwayne and Gina, both of whom provide friendship and support, and the story is told from their alternating perspectives. Dwayne is in love unrequitedly with Tom, while Gina is struggling to get over her ex, a singer-songwriter famous in the Commercial Drive lesbian scene.
Though the Gay Games is a wonderful backdrop for gay fiction, the novel’s dialogue is packed-to-bursting with unnecessary exposition. At one pivotal point, Kent, the novel’s villain says, “Tom, you’re a good-looking boy and very smart, but I’m a lone wolf. I’m not looking for Mr. Right. I’m looking for Mr. Right Now. And when I’m old, I’ll pay someone to be my boyfriend and take care of me. That’s what makes America great.” Kent doesn’t need to spell out his world view in one fell swoop, but there it is. Places and landmarks are acknowledged by full name and street locations – for instance, a minor character named Gaetan says, “I need to stock up on condoms before they run out at Shoppers Drug Mart on Davie.” – breaking the flow of the narrative. If that awkward phrasing happened only once, this reader would be more forgiving; however, the novel reads like a guidebook to the West End.
Many of the characters are too timidly explored to feel like real people. Kent is horrible from start to finish, nary a sign of depth to be found. Georgia, a love interest of Gina’s, isn’t very well developed, yet, oddly, the book ends abruptly after a plot twist involving her character that comes out of nowhere. While the novel is worth reading for its historical content, ultimately the writing needed to be stronger.