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Big Picture
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The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.

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
Gr. 7-12

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. . . . There’s no way that Self-Help can help me now.” Noah, new to town and Paul’s 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.

Levithan’s master stroke, however, lies in the setting, Paul’s fictional, unnamed hometown, for which Paul has great fondness. It’s an interesting place, operating fully within the rules of reality, but it’s a reality that doesn’t quite currently exist. There Infinite Darlene, the transvestite quarterback and Paul’s good friend, is also the homecoming queen; Paul’s 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 association’s 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; there’s a touching custom in the local cemetery, where each gravestone has a book attached so that people can read the writing of—or write to—the deceased. The offbeat location allows the book to contrast the lot of Tony, Paul’s good friend from the less egalitarian world of the next town over, with that of Paul and his cronies, but it more importantly relieves Paul’s relationship with Noah of political issues and permits the story to revel in being luxuriantly, sparklingly romantic.

All the staring into each other’s eyes and civic good fellowship could become somewhat cloying, but the book musters some powerful weapons against saccharinity. Firstly, it’s adroitly witty (“Conversation is not a strong suit,” Paul says of an annoying upperclassman; “in fact, I’m not sure it’s a suit he owns”). Secondly, there are distinct obstacles to bliss: Paul’s friend Tony is increasingly unhappy, Paul’s friend Joni is becoming a doormat girlfriend to a jerky guy, and Paul’s ex-boyfriend Kyle (who unconvincingly decided he was straight and consequently cold-shouldered Paul) is reopening lines of communication—and perhaps more. Since Noah’s still recovering from a previous cheating boyfriend, he’s uneasy about Paul’s close connections, and when gossip starts to fly about Paul’s closeness with Tony (false) and his reacquaintanceship with Kyle (true), it looks like Paul and Noah’s relationship is doomed.

It all gets worked out, of course, and it’s appropriate to this book that even the problems come as a result of Paul’s affection for people. The love story actually goes beyond the relationship between Paul and Noah, since Paul’s devoted to Tony (“More than anything in this strange life, I want Tony to be happy”), hopeful for Kyle’s peace, and determined that Joni deserves a better romantic fate than the one to which she’s currently subjecting herself.
Nor does it stop there: Paul’s 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; it’s 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, that’s what fiction’s for.

Deborah Stevenson, Editor

Big Picture Image

Cover illustration from Boy Meets Boy ©2003. Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

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This page was last updated on September 1, 2003.