The small town where Paul, the protagonist of David Levithan’s young adult novel, lives is as American as apple pie, if a bit Mayberry-sleepy. And, Paul notes, “there isn’t really a gay scene or a straight scene. They got all mixed up a while back, which I think is for the best.”
This coming-of-age story would be completely conventional if it weren’t set in a high school gaytopia where the star quarterback is also the homecoming “queen,” the cheerleaders eschew pom-poms for Harleys, and the school gathers enthusiastically for the Homecoming Pride Rally.
Paul has known he is gay since he was five (his kindergarten teacher: “Paul is definitely gay and has a very good sense of self”), but, in a new twist for young adult literature, this is not a problem; it’s just part of who Paul is. After all, this is a town that jettisoned the Boy Scouts in favor of the Joy Scouts.
In a book where gay culture is at least equal to mainstream straight culture, even the most hackneyed teen-romance plot becomes subversive. And in truth, nothing particularly dramatic happens in Boy Meets Boy: Paul meets Noah, the new kid in town, and falls head-over-heels. But Noah catches Paul sympathy-kissing an ex-boyfriend. So Paul loses Noah. To complicate things slightly, Paul’s best friend Joni is dating a jerk whom everyone in their circle of friends despises.
Things work out well, of course. While planning a school dance, Paul and Noah are reunited, and the friends manage to make Joni aware of her boyfriend’s boorish and controlling behavior. No surprises, but I found myself growing a bit teary, especially at a scene in which the gang helps another gay friend—one who lives in a less-tolerant town—stand up to his ultrareligious parents.
What astonishes is that Levithan has created an utterly believable world in which life for a gay teen can be nurturing, honest—even fun. In its lyrical lightness, Boy Meets Boy brings into exquisite focus the soul-killing prejudice outside this gaytopia, in what’s known as real life.
Marie Lee is the author of Finding My Voice.