(Yes, I’ve sat in the kitchen and eaten straight honey from a spoon. Don’t judge.)
The last few months, I’ve been really getting into queer YA. So far, it’s been a good ride: while (as with any genre) there’s been some meh stuff (mostly due to writers either not understanding how teenagers act or letting characters be defined by their queerness), as a whole, it’s delivered on the promise of fun, decently well-written fiction that’s thoughtful without being too self-indulgently navel-gaze-y. Plus, as someone who (as a teenager) got most of her queer representation through fan projects or the internet, I can’t help but get excited about books that feature non-straight people, even moreso when they’re YA—it’s fucking difficult to be a teenager even without the queer thing in the mix, and anything that tries to alleviate that I am 100% behind.
All that said then, Boy Meets Boy. BMB is a book from David Leviathan, an author who’s contributed a lot to the rather niche queer YA genre—he’s written twenty-three books and worked with multiple YA authors, including John Green, with whom he co-wrote Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Boy Meets Boy was Leviathan’s first novel, in 2003, and its premise is as simple as its title: a boy (Paul) meets another boy (Noah). They fall in love. Their parents and the small town they live in are incredibly accepting of their non-straightness (background characters include a drag queen star quarterback and the straight football player still bitter over getting rejected by her), and yet high school has a way of getting in the way of even the best of romances go awry.
I liked this book. It’s a very likeable book: the romance is cute, the banter is snappy, and the characters maintain a believable amount of teenage douchebaggery while still being relatively tolerant—Paul’s older brother might rag on him for bringing home home “another gay boy” instead of a cute female friend, but Jay’s also game when it comes to helping said gay boys escape their homophobic parents. Stylistically and tonally, BMB reads like a rom-com, with the only major difference being the genders of the protagonists involved. It’s not so much that homophobia doesn’t exist in Leviathan’s world as it is that he consciously chooses not to focus on it; the world of Boy Meets Boy may not be perfect, but it is one where high school drama is more pressing than anti-queerness, fundamentalist Christians can be won over to tolerance, and eight-year-olds can be both openly gay and class president. It’s a charming vision of the world, and it’s hard not to be charmed.
At the same time though, there were times where it felt as though Leviathan was laying on the charm a little too thick. Some writing choices—dancing to Frank Sintra? Ending with the lyrics from, “what a wonderful world”?—struck me as not cute cheesy, but cringe cheesy. In particular, the scenes in which Paul woos Noah—a sequence replete with origami flowers, handwritten notes, and guitar serenades—struck me as a bit too Zooey Deschanel quirky-cute; I mean, it was still cute, yeah, but from a writing point-of-view, it also just felt so easy. Like, c’mon Leviathan—Sinatra, really? I know he’s a stand-in for “classically romantic music,” but what seventeen-year-old boy just happens to have Sinatra records lying around? Choices like these make more sense if you look at BMB as a pastiche/homage to cheesy (hetereosexual) rom-coms, but on its own, they still straddle the line between “charming” and “cavity-inducing.”
There are parts, too, where BMB’s sweetness made it seem rather naive. Perhaps it’s my older, more cynical viewpoint showing itself, but I found the book a little too forgiving towards Kyle, aka Paul’s ex who breaks up with him and almost ruins his current relationship. First of all, I realize exs are messy and you’re trying to give your antagonists depth too because there are no villains in real life and blah blah blah. So Kyle’s a confused kid dealing with grief and his own bisexuality; okay, fine. But he’s still the same guy who told his school that Paul “tricked” him into a relationship, and if Paul’s town was any less accepting, this would be the kind of shit that gets people hurt. Kyle’s remorseful about it afterwards, sure, but that remorse doesn’t undo the potential shittiness of what he did. Do I believe that no one is born evil and that we all have the potential to change for the better? Yes, I do. As a friend, I still would have told Paul to run the other direction when Kyle—after weeks of ignoring him—asks if they can talk. Like, no, hon.
Kyle might not be a Disney villain, but his relationship with Paul is still textbook unhealthy—when Kyle tells Paul they should be together, he places it in terms of knowing what he wants, with appalling little thought given to Paul’s own feelings on the matter. The narrative doesn’t paint this as healthy, thank God, but I felt it still lets Kyle off pretty easily. Like I said, this is an essentially hopeful book, and so it is necessarily also an incredibly forgiving book, one that fundamentally believes that time and patience can eventually lead to a happy ending—and while that’s a beautiful way of looking at things, it’s not the best tack to take in real life. If you can, you get the fuck away from your homophobic parents; you don’t stay to see if things get better. Boy Meets Boy book presents a best-case scenario of human nature, one whose optimism occasionally encroaches on its realism.*
But don’t we need a little optimism these days? We live in, to quote David Foster Wallace,** “dark times, and stupid ones,” and there’s nothing wrong with wanting a reprieve from that once in a while—the only people who are against escape are jailers and etc. Boy Meets Boy might not accurately represent a world that exists, but it does give us a world that ought to—one that we should, in our current day, aspire to.
So read Boy Meets Boy. Just don’t forget to bring a toothbrush, because there are parts of this book that are so sweet your teeth are going to ache.
*If you want something more realistic, Leviathan’s Two Boys Kissing is more substantial in terms of dealing with homophobia and gender roles. It’s also got a sick Greek chorus thing going on, which is definitely a point in my book.
**Yes, this will be a reoccurring theme in this blog. I wrote my freakin’ thesis on Infinite Jest, and that’s the sort of shit you just don’t recover from