of the Center for Children's Books
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David Levithan. Boy Meets Boy.
Knopf, 2003 [208p]
Library ed. ISBN 0-375-92400-0 $17.99
Trade ed. ISBN 0-375-82400-6 $15.95
Ah, love, sweet love. It comes to tenth-grader Paul on an ordinary bookstore
outing with friends when, in the Self-Help section, he meets the boy of his
dreams: I am aware of my breathing. I am aware of my heartbeat. I am aware
that my shirt is half untucked. . . . Theres no way that Self-Help can
help me now. Noah, new to town and Pauls school, reciprocates the
interest, and the two embark on the exciting beginnings of an idyllic relationship.
In fact, in the tender prose, the pulsating sentiment, and the slightly embarrassing
mutual absorption of the subject couple, Boy Meets Boy recalls classic
romances such as Seventeenth Summer.
Levithans master stroke, however, lies in the setting, Pauls fictional, unnamed hometown, for which Paul has great fondness. Its an interesting place, operating fully within the rules of reality, but its a reality that doesnt quite currently exist. There Infinite Darlene, the transvestite quarterback and Pauls good friend, is also the homecoming queen; Pauls kindergarten teacher helpfully notes on his report card that he is definitely gay (and has very good sense of self); P-FLAG is as big a draw as the PTA; and the local Boy Scouts have renamed themselves the Joy Scouts after renouncing the national associations gay-unfriendly policies. Nor is this a single-issue or polemical utopia: the school janitors have made a fortune day-trading and just keep cleaning the school for pleasure; theres a touching custom in the local cemetery, where each gravestone has a book attached so that people can read the writing ofor write tothe deceased. The offbeat location allows the book to contrast the lot of Tony, Pauls good friend from the less egalitarian world of the next town over, with that of Paul and his cronies, but it more importantly relieves Pauls relationship with Noah of political issues and permits the story to revel in being luxuriantly, sparklingly romantic.
All the staring into each others eyes and civic good fellowship could become somewhat cloying, but the book musters some powerful weapons against saccharinity. Firstly, its adroitly witty (Conversation is not a strong suit, Paul says of an annoying upperclassman; in fact, Im not sure its a suit he owns). Secondly, there are distinct obstacles to bliss: Pauls friend Tony is increasingly unhappy, Pauls friend Joni is becoming a doormat girlfriend to a jerky guy, and Pauls ex-boyfriend Kyle (who unconvincingly decided he was straight and consequently cold-shouldered Paul) is reopening lines of communicationand perhaps more. Since Noahs still recovering from a previous cheating boyfriend, hes uneasy about Pauls close connections, and when gossip starts to fly about Pauls closeness with Tony (false) and his reacquaintanceship with Kyle (true), it looks like Paul and Noahs relationship is doomed.
It all gets worked out, of course, and its appropriate to this book that even the problems come as a result of Pauls affection for people. The love story actually goes beyond the relationship between Paul and Noah, since Pauls devoted to Tony (More than anything in this strange life, I want Tony to be happy), hopeful for Kyles peace, and determined that Joni deserves a better romantic fate than the one to which shes currently subjecting herself.
Nor does it stop there: Pauls narration evinces a tremendous delight in humanity in general and specific, in the many ways people connect with each other, in how much we can matter to one another. In a genre filled with darkness, torment, and anxiety, this is a shiningly affirmative and hopeful book; its fitting that the final sentence is And I think to myself, What a wonderful world. It may not quite be reality as any of its readers experience it, but, then, thats what fictions for.
Deborah Stevenson, Editor
Cover illustration from Boy Meets Boy ©2003. Used by permission
of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.
This page was last updated on September 1, 2003.