It's pretty fitting to start my reading David Levithan with his debut novel Boy Meets Boy. In fact, Boy Meets Boy just released its 10 year anniversary edition which has an excellent Q&A with Levithan in the back and I'll be referring to a bit.
As I was reading this Q&A I began to think about how this novel is pretty significant to the "YA canon", if there is one. In a lot of interviews about this book Levithan talks about how in 2004 there weren't many books featuring queer teens, and if there were they usually leaned on the Bury Your Gay and the Gayngst tropes--that is a gay teen usually ended up dead or in another equally angsty situation at the end of the day. That's not to say the intolerance doesn't exist in the novel, but what Levithan does is offer a new narrative, a story of hope for those gay teens who never see positive stories about themselves.
Boy Meets Boy is exactly what it says on the cover. It's about what happens when boy meets boy, but the plot is about if boy can keep boy. At the National Book Festival Levithan called this a "dippy happy love story" and I think that is the perfect description,
Paul is a sophomore in high school who has always known he was gay, and even had it confirmed in Kindergarten when his teacher wrote "Paul is definitely gay and has a very good sense of self" on his report card. Paul's had a long series of boyfriends since elementary school, but has taken a break after coming of a breakup with Kyle, his now straight ex-boyfriend who says Paul tricked him.
And then Paul meets Noah, the new boy in town. Like most of Levithan's characters Noah is very spiritual, artsy and creative. He has "cool hair" , suede blue shoes and is kind of boy who "paints some music" after school. But despite his coolness, Noah has his own fragile heart and Paul wants nothing more to make this relationship work, but his crazy life seems to want to get in the way.
The main storyline is pretty simple, but Levithan weaves so many side characters and elements to create a really robust story and world. I like how he can tell a whole story in only about 185 pages. Which by the way is another thing I love about most of Levithan's books--he keeps it short.
One of the biggest criticisms about this book is the culture shock from the unnamed town Paul lives in. His town is kind of this surreal-ish utopian town where all kinds of LGBT is celebrated and accepted. The football quarterback, Infinite Darlene, is the also homecoming (drag) queen, the cheerleaders ride Harley's, They've renamed the Boy Scouts the Joy Scouts in protest of the gay ban, the members of the Gay-Straight Alliance outnumber the members of the football team and the French Cuisine club gets an applause at the pep rally for rising the perfect souffle. Just to name a few.
My first thought was that Levithan created the community to take some of the "special issue"-ness about of the LGBT novel. Levithan explains why he created this world really well in the back of the book, but essentially he wanted to picture things how they should be not how they are. As you read more into this story even the more absurd things fall away because, at its heart the story is so real. Apparently this idea is explored more in Levithan's Wide Awake, so I'll be looking forward to that one.
This novel isn't entirely sunshine and rainbows, Levithan does touch on intolerance with Paul's friend Tony who lives in a different town and is under strict scrutiny by religious parents. The friendship between Tony and Paul is so powerful. Tony is self-conscious and afraid. He doesn't know a life where he can be okay with who he is until he meets Paul and hangs out with him. Paul says he "fell in hope" with Tony and wants a fair world where Tony can shine, which I thought was a great sentiment.
While the story isn't perfect, the message of hope and acceptance is clear. Boy Meets Boy was a book ahead of it's time and I'll be really interested in comparing this book back to Levithan's most recent novel Two Boys Kissing.