Cover of "Out of Left Field." | Jonah Newman

Even though I’m first and foremost a Sporty Spice, I still have a major soft spot for a swoony gay YA novel. And if a writer tells a story combining a closeted nerdy gay navigating high school with learning to love baseball, they’ve already guaranteed that I’ll never complain about a lack of believable characters.

Sure enough, Jonah Newman’s new hardball-centered LGBTQ graphic novel “Out of Left Field” checks all the boxes to ensure that I’m emotionally invested in his main character’s coming out journey.

Loosely based on Newman’s own high school experience, it’s a sweet story with an endearingly awkward gay protagonist that balances the thrills of unexpected athletic heroism with the paralyzing fear of his newfound teammates discovering who he really is.

Both aspects of Jonah’s life are presented with authenticity and heart. In his afterword, Newman writes that his goal in telling the story was “transmitting true emotions to the reader” and he accomplishes that through the likability of his main character. 

A scene from “Out of Left Field.” Courtesy of Jonah Newman

Even when Jonah goes down a few wrong paths in his journey, Newman always demonstrates compassion for his younger self and it comes through in his storytelling and his art.

It’s really good art, too. One of the strongest aspects of Newman’s drawing is his ability to depict the difference between the feeble swings that Jonah takes at the start of his baseball career and the lethal batting stroke he develops as he gradually learns how to be a real hitter. 

Newman’s eye for detail nails specifics like hand and elbow placement and is a spot-on way to track Jonah’s evolution as a ballplayer. His teammates accept him (somewhat) as a contributor on the diamond much quicker than Jonah accepts himself as a gay person worthy of love and that conflict forms the emotional core of the story.

As far as the romantic aspect of the book goes, “Out of Left Field” falls a bit shy of the genre’s Hall of Famers like Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera’s “What If It’s Us” or Simon James Green’s “Heartbreak Boys.” But that’s the YA equivalent of comparing a baseball player to Ted Williams or Shohei Ohtani and it’s no shame to fall a bit short of those lofty standards.

Regarding his relationships with other guys, Jonah’s crush on his teammate Elliot is handled deftly and you keenly feel his disappointment when Elliot engages in stereotypical jock talk to impress a group of girls.

On the other hand, the secret romance between Jonah and his confidently out boyfriend Dustin doesn’t really generate swoons like the best YA stories. That’s partly because Dustin functions more as a contrasting character to underscore Jonah’s struggles with being open about his sexuality.

A truly welcome touch to the story is the character of Amelia, Jonah’s only female teammate. Like Jonah, she deals with the struggles of not being able to fit in with the rest of the jocks on the team so it’s natural to assume that the two would be allies from the start.

But while Jonah is able to earn a bit of acceptance by pretending to be one of the guys, Amelia has no such opportunities. Even the coach who patiently helps Jonah learn the game refuses to accept that a girl can play on his team as an equal.

It’s a reminder that Jonah’s genuine struggles are also accompanied by a bit of privilege that someone like Amelia cannot access. Newman’s choice to make her part of his story adds impressive nuance to both characters and makes their sometimes tense interactions especially fascinating.

Ultimately, “Out of Left Field” does justice to both the harrowing journey of coming out in high school and the impressive work of learning to excel on the diamond. As a gay baseball fan, it’s makes for a proud addition to my bookshelf.