Hello everyone, and welcome back!
I’m just going to say it: I’m probably never going to read a David Levithan novel I like as much as Two Boys Kissing. I keep trying, because I keep thinking that the author of a novel I really like so much will have another book that will remotely compare, but that’s just not the case.
Okay, mind you, he can still write new stuff, and maybe that new stuff will keep up with those expectations. By reading his work before Two Boys Kissing, I’m maybe not giving this concept a fair shake. But like, also, I read Are We There Yet?, so I’m allowed to feel skeptical.
And yes, I will get on with this review.
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
This cover is eh by today’s standards, but this book did come out in the early 2000s, when cover trends were different, I assume. (I was a teen in the early 2000s, and yet I did not read young adult literature, so I have no idea what was on trend then.) I do like what he says about the title: he wanted the book to be openly, obviously gay, a fact that caused a lot of controversy at the time, but also made this book very present for people who were looking for it.
This book is about what it says it’s about: a boy meets a boy. The novel thing about this (ha) is that it happens in a particular context: the town where Paul meets Noah is pretty unique, a place where the starting quarterback is also the homecoming queen, a place where very few people are small-minded, a place where social cliques still exist but you’re more likely to be excluded for poor outfit choices than your gender or sexuality. (Also, the janitors have made a fortune on the stock market but like cleaning schools, and the local fast food joint has become a vegetarian/vegan restaurant.)
This world feels surreal, especially from a 2003 perspective, so there’s something fun and whimsical about it. There’s also a certain charm to some of the characters, like Infinite Darlene, in her jersey and tiara at once, or Tony, who lives a town over and has to confront the prejudices of his religious parents with patience and a lot of courage.
I’m not here to say that I don’t like the book because it’s not realistic, because I get Levithan’s point about it: there are plenty of books out there in which the lives of queer characters are tragic. It’s nice to spend some time with them in a universe where they don’t have a zillion obstacles in the way of finding happiness. This might mean this just isn’t a book for everyone, because if it’s a book you come to in order to see your experiences reflected and to find some catharsis in that, Boy Meets Boy really isn’t that book. Paul’s life as a gay boy is as easy as they come, and most of the drama in it is of his own making.
There are a couple of issues I do have with the book, though, and they’re basically entwined: one is that Paul is the book’s least interesting character (and perhaps downright annoying, actually), and the second is that we don’t spend enough time getting to know the potentially much more interesting characters, which might be a symptom of Paulitis or the fact that this book is under 200 pages long. (Yes, I know, I’ve been reading a lot of really short books. Symptoms of a busy year!)
(I think the lesson I’ve learned from this year is that, while short books may take less time to read and thus seem more appealing, it’s honestly not worth it to ditch a longer book a lot of the time because most short books are going to be too short.)
(Also a sidebar: the tenth anniversary edition of this book that I have includes a short story about Infinite Darlene, which was really charming.)
It’s also a toss-up in terms of whether readers will dig Levithan’s writing style or find it off-putting, I think. In his not-collaborations I’ve read, he seems to pretty consistently be focussed on the introspective and the profound and not go for a lot of external action or dialogue. His characters often have some pretty insightful, lovely internal thoughts, but it often sort of suspends disbelief; not that teen characters can’t have insightful thoughts, but that we have no reason to feel that these particular characters would be internally profound all the time. Obviously, it makes perfect sense in Two Boys Kissing, where the narrator is a chorus of dead gay men, so…definitely a whacky narrative perspective where you can get away with a lot of wistful wisdom. Even in Every Day, the deeply isolated life of the narrator and their vast variety of experiences makes those kinds of musings make some sense. From the mind of Paul? Ehh.
All in all, there’s some definite fun to this story in terms of the setting and the non-Paul characters, and I largely enjoyed my read. But I’m not sure that we get enough time to connect with the characters who are likeable, and in terms of plot, it’s hard to root for Paul. It’s a typical romantic comedy set-up, but he’s definitely the one who screws things up, and his way of dealing with that comes off as a bit selfish and slightly creeper-y rather than romantic. (Maybe that’s just usual for the genre, though. That whole “boy pursues reluctant romantic interest to the point of it being uncomfortable” is definitely a thing.)
Do you have any favourite LGTBQIA+ classics? I’d love to hear your recommendations in the comments. Let me know, and I’ll speak to you again soon!