Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
After reading David Levithan’s contribution to Geektastic, “Quiz Bowl Antichrist”, I’ve been steadily making my way through Levithan’s bibliography—you can read my review of The Lover’s Dictionary here. I thoroughly enjoyed that one and picked up this, his first novel, a few weeks after polishing it off. After Spellwright, I really wanted something special—but, while I enjoyed it, Boy Meets Boy was ultimately too flimsy for me.
Boy Meets Boy follows Paul, a high school sophomore in one of the most accepting, loving, and tolerant small towns in the United States—the quarterback and the homecoming queen are one and the same, spontaneous dance parties erupt in the local bookstore, and the Boy Scouts were drummed out for being homophobic (and promptly replaced with the Joy Scouts). When Paul meets Noah, a newly transferred senior, it’s love at first sight; but when his best friend Joni begins dating Chuck, a world-class jerk, and Paul’s ex-boyfriend Kyle starts talking to him again, things get very complicated very quickly—when the school bookie is taking odds on your relationships, you know things are bad. How can Paul make things right and get the guy?
In a sadly unavailable review quoted on the Wikipedia page, Frances Atkinson compares Boy Meets Boy to Glee, which I think is totally fair—as well as a mixed blessing. You see, Glee, for all the real world issues it deals with, is essentially a living cartoon; character development never lasts more than an episode, logic is thrown out the window, and important events are often forgotten. There’s a thinness to Glee’s world that makes it impossible for me to take seriously, although the cast is quite talented and some of the one-liners are brilliant. I feel the same way about Boy Meets Boy. Paul lives in a fantastic town, where everyone is accepted—the Old Queen and the Young Punk, local ranters, are good friends, and a lot of the clubs at Paul’s high school mix events freely. But at times, it felt cartoonish; there are several throwaway lines that are funny in the moment, but ultimately hurt the suspension of disbelief. But I have to say, I don’t think Levithan is really going for believability here—it feels more like a wacky Disney sitcom than anything else. And while that’s incredibly useful for a teenager in a space where they can’t be themselves, I expected better from Levithan, who proved he can combine humor, believability, and heart in “Quiz Bowl Antichrist”.
The characters themselves are organic—Paul is honestly a nice guy, although overwhelmed by the events of the novel. I loved him as soon as he described how he “fell in hope with” his other best friend, Tony, who remains in the closet because of his conservatively religious parents; it was such a great detail, but I’ll get to the writing style in a moment (5). And I wholly identified with Paul’s confusion and anger over seeing Joni with Chuck—been there, done that. While I was afraid that, at first, Levithan was bashing religion, it becomes clear towards the end of the novel that Tony is trying to reconcile his faith, his parents’ love (and misguided actions), and his orientation—he doesn’t allow Paul to demonize his parents. Noah was nice, although, to be honest, I found him a bit bland; but Levithan really sells you on how much Paul loves him, so it works. Out of the supporting cast, I (like most people) love Infinite Darlene the most, the drag queen quarterback and homecoming queen—she’s outspoken, classy, and a little selfish… but hey, she’s a teenager! She’s hilarious and it works beautifully. I just wish these characters had a better background to play on.
You guys know how much I love an author who can pick out just the right detail—simply behold my unwavering devotion to Michael Chabon. Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary is essentially a book composed of such details; I swooned, and I expected Boy Meets Boy to be just the same. This is exactly the same sort of problem I encountered when I read Neverwhere after American Gods; the later work is so good that the earlier work can only pale in comparison. To be sure, there are some laugh-out loud moments and some beautiful details, but the former occasionally break the world and the latter are too few and far in between. As a queer adult who has read and loved later Levithan, Boy Meets Boy, while promising and enjoyable, felt too thin and ephemeral for me to enjoy wholly. But I wonder if I would have enjoyed it more as a teenager.
Bottom line: Boy Meets Boy is an enjoyable but ultimately thin novel seemingly set in a queer (and everything) friendly version of a Disney sitcom or a cheerier version of Glee. If you haven’t read Levithan, give it a shot—if you’ve read later Levithan and loved him, consider giving this a miss.
I rented this book from the public library.
- Levithan, David. Boy Meets Boy. New York; Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.