Booklist, starred review
Paul, a high-school sophomore, is gay. Big deal! He’s known he was gay since he was in kindergarten. Remarkably, everybody else knows it, too, and nobody cares. Clearly, the world Paul inhabits in this breakthrough book (the first upbeat gay novel for teens) differs from the real world: two boys walk through town holding hands; the cross-dressing quarterback, named Infinite Darlene, is not only captain of the football team but also homecoming queen; the school has a biker cheerleading team. Even in this whimsical world, however, the course of true love doesn’t always run smoothly: Paul meets — and gets — the boy, Noah, a new kid in town, but loses him. Then, in perfect balance with this extraordinarily large-hearted, cheerful book, something unpredictable, but deeply satisfying, happens. Though at times arch and even precious, this wacky, charming, original story is never outrageous, and its characters are fresh, real, and deeply engaging. In its blithe acceptance and celebration of human differences, this is arguably the most important gay novel since Nancy Garden’s Annie on My Mind; it seems to represent a revolution in the publishing of gay-themed books for adolescents.
School Library Journal, starred review
High school sophomore lives in a present-day gaytopia, where boys come out of the closet to become class president and the Gay-Straight Alliance has more members than the football team. The cheerleaders ride Harleys and the cross-dressing homecoming queen is also the star quarterback. Paul meets artistic Noah in the bookstore. They pass notes rife with meaningful detail, paint in Noah’s psychedlic, art-covered room, and fall in sweet, realistic teenage love, unencumbered by gay-bashing, sexual identity crises, and parental rejection. With these real-world plot constraints removed, the narrative is driven completely by colorful, literate characters at their unfettered best. Paul is the cerebral teen’s dream narrator — reflective and insightful, occasionally snarky, and consistently hilarious. Levithan’s whimsical, energetic prose and surreal setting draw comparisons to Weetzie Bat’s Francesca Lia Block. The sharp humor and thoughtful clarity of the narration are on par with those of Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Ellen Wittinger’s Hard Love. Levithan’s prophecy of a hate-free world in which everyone loves without persecution makes this a provocative and important read for all young adults, gay and straight.
The Bulletin, starred review
Ah, love, sweet love. It comes to tenth-grader Paul on an ordinary bookstore outing with friends when, in the Self-Help section, he meets the boy of his dreams: “I am aware of my breathing. I am aware of my heartbeat. I am aware that my shirt is half untucked. . . . There’s no way that Self-Help can help me now.” Noah, new to town and Paul’s school, reciprocates the interest, and the two embark on the exciting beginnings of an idyllic relationship. In fact, in the tender prose, the pulsating sentiment, and the slightly embarrassing mutual absorption of the subject couple, Boy Meets Boy recalls classic romances such as Seventeenth Summer.
Levithan’s master stroke, however, lies in the setting, Paul’s fictional, unnamed hometown, for which Paul has great fondness. It’s an interesting place, operating fully within the rules of reality, but it’s a reality that doesn’t quite currently exist. There Infinite Darlene, the transvestite quarterback and Paul’s good friend, is also the homecoming queen; Paul’s kindergarten teacher helpfully notes on his report card that he is “definitely gay” (“and has very good sense of self”); P-FLAG is “as big a draw as the PTA”; and the local Boy Scouts have renamed themselves the “Joy Scouts” after renouncing the national association’s gay-unfriendly policies. Nor is this a single-issue or polemical utopia: the school janitors have made a fortune day-trading and just keep cleaning the school for pleasure; there’s a touching custom in the local cemetery, where each gravestone has a book attached so that people can read the writing of—or write to—the deceased. The offbeat location allows the book to contrast the lot of Tony, Paul’s good friend from the less egalitarian world of the next town over, with that of Paul and his cronies, but it more importantly relieves Paul’s relationship with Noah of political issues and permits the story to revel in being luxuriantly, sparklingly romantic.
All the staring into each other’s eyes and civic good fellowship could become somewhat cloying, but the book musters some powerful weapons against saccharinity. Firstly, it’s adroitly witty (“Conversation is not a strong suit,” Paul says of an annoying upperclassman; “in fact, I’m not sure it’s a suit he owns”). Secondly, there are distinct obstacles to bliss: Paul’s friend Tony is increasingly unhappy, Paul’s friend Joni is becoming a doormat girlfriend to a jerky guy, and Paul’s ex-boyfriend Kyle (who unconvincingly decided he was straight and consequently cold-shouldered Paul) is reopening lines of communication—and perhaps more. Since Noah’s still recovering from a previous cheating boyfriend, he’s uneasy about Paul’s close connections, and when gossip starts to fly about Paul’s closeness with Tony (false) and his reacquaintanceship with Kyle (true), it looks like Paul and Noah’s relationship is doomed.
It all gets worked out, of course, and it’s appropriate to this book that even the problems come as a result of Paul’s affection for people. The love story actually goes beyond the relationship between Paul and Noah, since Paul’s devoted to Tony (“More than anything in this strange life, I want Tony to be happy”), hopeful for Kyle’s peace, and determined that Joni deserves a better romantic fate than the one to which she’s currently subjecting herself.
Nor does it stop there: Paul’s narration evinces a tremendous delight in humanity in general and specific, in the many ways people connect with each other, in how much we can matter to one another. In a genre filled with darkness, torment, and anxiety, this is a shiningly affirmative and hopeful book; it’s fitting that the final sentence is “And I think to myself, What a wonderful world.” It may not quite be reality as any of its readers experience it, but, then, that’s what fiction’s for.
Deborah Stevenson, Editor
Somewhere on the eastern coast of the US that’s home to Francesca Lia Block’s Los Angeles is a town where six-foot-five drag queens play high-school football, kindergarten teachers write comments like “Definitely gay and has a very good sense of self” on student report cards, quiz-bowl teams are as important as football teams, and cheerleaders ride Harleys. Paul and his friends go to high school in this town. Paul meets Noah, falls for him, does something dumb, and loses him. The last half of the story is about Paul working to get Noah back. Paul narrates his own story, and he talks and thinks like teens wish they did, much like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and her Scooby squad. Paul learns that love is still scary when boy meets boy even if it’s as accepted as mom’s apple pie. With wry humor, wickedly quirky and yet real characters, and real situations, this is a must for any library serving teens.
Levithan’s novel is a lighthearted romp through the complications of high school relationships. After Paul meets Noah in a bookstore, Paul knows he is smitten when he refuses to divulge details to Joni — his closest female friend since before she assisted his successful campaign to become “the first openly gay class president in Mrs. Farquar’s third grade class.” Paul, comfortable with his sexuality since labeled “definitely gay” in kindergarten, enjoys another chaste yet incredibly close friendship with Tony — who attends another school, has religious fundamental parents, and struggles with being gay. Tony and Paul are so in tune that they often complete one another’s homework assignments for fun. With two best firneds, Paul has support when Kyle, “the only straight boy [he] ever kissed,” leaves and then reenters his life — complicating Paul’s budding relationship with Noah.
In a town that shunned Boy Souts for the more inclusive Joy Scouts, being a gay teen is no more difficult than being straight. Boys walk hand-in-hand with repercussions. The high school’s homecoming queen, Infinite Darlene, is also its star quarterback, and the school’s rich-kid bookie, Rip, provides odds on nearly everything — including Paul’s chances with each of the boys in his life. Hilarious, romantic, and optimistic, the story provides another view of what life could be like if the world were more accepting, showing how youth solidarity can overcome the fears of the most homophobic parents. This title is a keeper for public and secondary school lirbaries; purchase multiple copies if there is a Gay-Straight Alliance in town.