Review: Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

Published February 23, 2014 by Shannon

Boy Meets Boy

In an ongoing effort to make inroads into the massive TBR pile I have accrued, I unearthed David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy from the digital stacks, and was very glad indeed that I had. Here’s what goodreads has to say.

This is the story of Paul, a sophomore at a high school like no other: The cheerleaders ride Harleys, the homecoming queen used to be a guy named Daryl (she now prefers Infinite Darlene and is also the star quarterback), and the gay-straight alliance was formed to help the straight kids learn how to dance.

When Paul meets Noah, he thinks he’s found the one his heart is made for. Until he blows it. The school bookie says the odds are 12-to-1 against him getting Noah back, but Paul’s not giving up without playing his love really loud. His best friend Joni might be drifting away, his other best friend Tony might be dealing with ultra-religious parents, and his ex-boyfriend Kyle might not be going away anytime soon, but sometimes everything needs to fall apart before it can really fit together right.

This is a happy-meaningful romantic comedy about finding love, losing love, and doing what it takes to get love back in a crazy-wonderful world.

In our library, we have a section where we categorize books that provide a rosy view of the past or the present. These are not books that (usually) make you think. They’re meant to provide a smile to the face, and a song to the heart. We call them “Gentle or nostalgic fiction.”

“Gentle or nostalgic fiction:” was a perfect summary of what Levithan gives us. The town where Paul, our protagonist, lives is a left-wing, progressive, LGBT-friendly utopia where the homecoming queen and the high school quarterback are the same person (AWESOME TRANSGENDER CHARACTERS BEING AWESOME! YEAH!), where the town’s Boy Scout troop decided that if gay kids weren’t allowed to participate, they’d just call themselves the Joy Scouts, and where the Gay-Straight Alliance was a place to teach straight kids how to dance. It does not resemble any actual town anywhere in America, and I read one Goodreads review that supposed that such a utopia would be actively harmful to any struggling gay teenagers. I don’t know whether that’s true, but I loved the idea of the place. I think Levithan is appealing to our better nature and saying that such a town *could* be created, had we but the wherewithal to make it happen, because people can be incredibly good and kind and tolerant. I don’t see how Levithan’s gay utopia is any different from the plethora of small-town romances for adults where everybody is kind and compassionate and people drop over to make you cookies when you’re sad, and there’s a lonely police offficer/Marine/wounded Navy SEAL hiding out somewhere that just needs your love.

By setting this book in a nostalgic small town, Levithan is able to move past making the story he’s telling an “issue book.” Paul is gay. He’s very accepting of the fact. He knows who he is and what he wants. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t make mistakes along the way, and that’s where the charm lies. This is a lovely coming of age story about changing friendship dynamics, first loves, and figuring out what you want. Paul is a terrific first-person protagonist, with a sense of whimsy that I found charming. Watching him struggle to do the right thing for all the people in his life, even and especiallyy himself, gave me all the happy feels, and I read the book with a constant smile.

Noah, Paul’s love interest, was something of a cipher. I didn’t think he was nearly as interesting as Paul’s friend Tony, (who lives in the next town over, where things are not quite so liberal-utopia happy and has to deal with religious parents) or Infinite Darlene, (a bit of a walking stereotype, to be sure, but I still loved her.) Nonetheless, Paul was so deftly drawn that I found myself liking and approving of Noah because Paul did.

I wasn’t quite so crazy about the subplot involving Paul’s best female friend dating a meathead and their relationship’s consequent drifting apart. I thought Joni treated Paul badly, and though she comes around in the end, I wanted a bit more closure than I ultimately got. Of course, since the theme of the book is that friendships and people change, there’s no other way for the story to go, but still… why was she the one who had to be so horrible?

I read this on Audio, which is why the grade isn’t higher. Presentation does matter, and this was not an enjoyable audiobook experience. I don’t really mind full-cast recordings, and think they can be done well, but in this case, not only was there full cast, but intersticial music that I found distracting. The narrator also had a tendency to help the text along more than it needed by over-emoting everything. This is something that happens frequently in commercial audiobooks for young adults, and it drives me nuts. I do want the readers of my audiobooks to evince some enthusiasm for what they’re reading, but I don’t need them to cry and laugh with the narrator when the text does a fine job making it clear what the narrator is feeling. We say in our audiobook department at the library that a book’s reader should be like a pane of glass, letting the listener perceive the nuances of the text on her own.

I thought this book was lovely and poignant in the best possible way, despite the obnoxious audio presentation. It’s a sweet romance with terrific characters. I highly recommend it.

Grade: B

One comment on “Review: Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

  • I like that thought — about an audiobook being a pane of glass. That’s pretty true, the more I think about it.

    I think I want to read the audiobook, even though parts sound obnoxious because I like full cast from time to time.

    Also, if adults can have small town books where everyone is good and kind, then so should gay teenagers.

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