April YA Book Club: David Levithan’s BOY MEETS BOY Discussion

Oh, boy, am I glad I read this. Boy-oh-boy.

And no, I’m not just saying that because it’s an opportunity for terrible wordplay (though I’ve been known to sink to such depths before). I really am glad!

It’s important to note that, although the number of books with gay characters is growing, Boy Meets Boy was in many ways one of the first of its kind. Paul is gay, as are many of the characters in this book, but this isn’t a coming out book. Paul has pretty much always been out—the tension here comes not from being gay but from the ups and downs of Paul’s life with his friends and his romantic entanglements.

We do get a bit of the struggle of being gay with Tony—but even then, Tony’s struggle isn’t with whether or not he’s gay, or even how he feels about it. It’s how his parents feel about it that provides the hurdle here. His religious parents stand in for a significant segment of the population, of course, and Tony’s way of finally facing up to them is true to the gentle and loving character we’ve gotten to know throughout the book.

Boy Meets Boy is a bit of a fantasy world, even today. When this book was published in 2003, no states allowed gay marriage; now we have seventeen and counting. The 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act expanded the federal hate crimes law to cover crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity.

Eleven years after the publication of Boy Meets Boy, though, despite these leaps and bounds in gay rights in the US, this paradise of acceptance still seems regrettably far-fetched. That says nothing about the book and everything about the world we live in.

I found the wide cast of characters a little difficult to follow sometimes, but I think this is due to how quickly I devoured Boy Meets Boy. The short chapters kept convincing me that just-one-more wouldn’t take very long, and before I knew it I was finished.

One of the things I think David Levithan captures so well here is the absolute rush of confusion that comes with being a teen, whether it’s about your friends or your romantic engagements. Paul is the epitome of this, as he struggles to balance his fracturing friendship with Joni, Infinite Darlene’s infinite drama, Tony’s struggles with his parents, his post-dating friendship with Kyle, his school committees…the list goes on. And into that maelstrom walks Noah, who is the calm in this storm. Their time together is tranquil and measured, even through the initial excitement of getting to know each other, moving toward a relationship that might be a little more adult than the ones that came before. (Not that it’s lacking in teen appeal.)

I really liked that Joni didn’t break up with Chuck at the end of the book. Don’t get me wrong: I have no love for Chuck. He’s an uninteresting lump of boring-bordering-on-offensive. But this is another sort of adult reality that these kids are facing. Sometimes people you love love people you don’t love. (Try saying THAT ten times fast!) And, conversely, sometimes you’re the person whose significant other doesn’t gain the approval of your friends and family. That doesn’t erase your history together, and it doesn’t have to erase your future as friends, either.

What did you all think of Boy Meets Boy? Have you ever read anything like it? Can you see any of Paul’s world in ours? Who’s your favorite character?

Let’s get a discussion going in the comments, and come back on May 8th to hear about our next Swoon Reads Book Club choice.