Boy Meets Boy: A Story of Friendship, Confusion, and Love


David Levithan. Boy Meets Boy. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.

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"And I know as I do that he isn't 'just some guy.' There was something in our two minutes together that felt like it could last for years. Telling Infinite Darlene this doesn't just feel like I'm setting myself up for gossip. No, it feels like I'm putting my whole heart on the line."

At first glance, Paul looks like a typical high school sophomore: he has friends, feelings, hopes, dreams, homework, and a handful of extracurricular activities. But Paul is anything but ordinary (you'd have to be a pretty incredible person in order to become the first openly gay third-grade class president and one of the original founders of the elementary school's gay-straight alliance), and the high school he attends is just as wonderfully unique as he is. At Paul's high school, the prom queen, Infinite Darlene, is also the star quarterback of the football team; the cheerleaders ride Harleys; the school band, rather than competing in marching band competitions, performs in the Dave Matthews Cover Band Competition; and discrimination on the basis of sexuality is (almost) completely nonexistent. It is through this colorful, surreal world that David Levithan not only presents teens with a highly accessible tale about the drama and confusion of high school relationships, but also conveys a powerful message about embracing one's individual identity and appreciating diversity.

Our story begins with a usual night on the town for Paul and his two best friends, Joni and Tony. Joni, Paul's friend since second grade, is a spirited girl who also happens to be the first person Paul came out to, besides his parents, that is. Tony is a sweet and insightful gay teenager who, unfortunately, has to deal with extremely religious, intolerant parents. On this particular Saturday "Cinderella mission," called so because Tony must be back to his house before midnight, Paul and his buddies attend a musical performance by their "Gaystafarian" friend Zeke at a local chain bookstore. It is here that Paul first meets Noah, the artistic, sensitive, charming, perfect boy who changes Paul's world. Paul's time with Noah can be summed up in a single word- bliss. They pass origami notes between classes, watch movies together, meet each other's families, share deeply personal stories about past loves, and spend a soulful and intimate evening painting music together in Noah's studio. Paul feels a truly profound connection to Noah and wants nothing more than to be close to him, emotionally and physically. When holding hands with Noah, Paul says, "every conspicuous part of me is in the hand that he holds. It is through that hand, that feeling, that I experience everything else" (66).

Noah isn't the only one shaking things up in Paul's life and, unfortunately, not all of this change is for the better. Joni has started dating a quick-tempered, crass, and controlling football player named Chuck, and the Joni that Paul knows and loves is disappearing before his very eyes. As Paul says, all of Joni's reactions seem to be "Chuck-related in some way" (90). Infinite Darlene has recruited Paul as the chief architect for the Dowager Dance, which also entails the added stress of keeping the peace between Infinite Darlene and her arch nemesis, Trilby Pope. As if Paul wasn't dealing with enough drama already, a friend of Tony's mother catches Tony and Paul in a caring embrace and, assuming the worst, tells Tony's parents. Tony is grounded and his parents, especially his mother, do everything possible to sever the ties between Tony and Paul. Additionally, Paul unexpectedly kisses his straight exboyfriend/newly re-established friend Kyle, who, hurting after the death of his aunt, is "so sad and so beautiful" and needs some comforting (104). Worst of all, Noah finds out.

Though Paul's life seems to be unraveling quickly, Tony provides him (and young adult readers) with a ray of hope by showcasing his bravery- he stands up for himself and calls his mother out on her unfair prejudices against his friends. That same night, Tony also gives Paul the straight-forward advice he needs to gain Noah's trust and win him back- "Show him how you feel. Don't tell him, Paul. Show him" (157).

Now the only question is, "How?"


Recommendations for Teachers
It almost goes without saying that Boy Meets Boy would be a difficult text to teach in a high school setting. There will likely be parents who are uncomfortable with their children reading a book that is almost entirely about a homosexual relationship, and this is understandable. Some people hold religious views that say homosexuality is wrong, and the book comments on this subject by depicting christian parents that try to oppress a character's homosexuality in order to save him from "damnation". This subject matter could easily cause tension for the parent and even some students who feel that the book is in some way morally wrong.

In order to deal with such fears, it may be helpful to assure parents that there is nothing inappropriate about the book. There is no sex, drugs, or alcohol, and there is minimal swearing, which in a sense makes it more appropriate than a number of teen novels. It could also help if this book is taught in a unit on literary diversity. Including homosexual literature with other less-represented genres may justify the reading of Boy Meets Boy to someone who feels it is morally wrong to read it.

Not only will there likely be difficulty teaching Boy Meets Boy because of parental concerns, there will also likely be problems with students being immature or insensitive. Some students may not be mature enough to discuss homosexual characters or literature, and for that reason this book should probably be taught in an upper-level English class. The more difficult issue will be students’ hostile views against homosexuality. To be called “gay” is sort of the ultimate insult in high school. For this reason some students may find it difficult to read or discuss the novel either for fear of being ridiculed or because they think homosexuality is just disgusting. Granted, young people have become more accepting of homosexuality over the years. But it is still a touchy subject that will have to be dealt with through closely guided class discussion. Once overcoming the above hurdles, the story is still boils down to a romance and introducing the book to the classroom is likely to have a divided level of interest in the same way that a heterosexual love story would. It may be just as hard to "sell" to adolescent (and straight) males if all the characters were heterosexual.

However, that is not to say that Boy Meets Boy should not be taught. If you are willing to deal with the difficulties that will likely arise from the students, the parents, and the school board, it can be a very rewarding and fun read. It goes without saying that gay students would at least find the inclusion of reading that includes homosexual characters to be refreshing. The novel as a whole is really one big thought experiment and that alone would make for a great class discussion for all students. Boy Meets Boy basically establishes a high school where everyone is just as they want to be without fear of being ridiculed or mocked. It might be interesting to ask students if such a school environment is possible and how it could be created. Many students will probably be intrigued by the idea of being exactly who they are when at school.

Another option in teaching Boy Meets Boy is pairing it with articles on current events. Issues like gay marriage, same sex partner benefits and hate crime legislation could show the struggles of people on both sides of the isle of this issue. Also the severeness of an issue like hate crimes could help the students approach the topic of homosexuality with more respect. In addition to educating the students on current events, this would also open up a myriad of possibilities in bringing technology into the teaching process. Having the students listen to podcasts on the topic, create blogs that respond to the articles they read and even compare articles that deal with similar homosexual issues but are from a different country, are just a few of the options available to teachers.

Boy Meets Boy would also provide an opportunity for a discussion on the transcendent nature of a good story and good writing. Whether students will admit it or not, most will likely feel a connection with the character's in the story and may even have an emotional reaction at the end. It would be interesting to discuss how the author was able to make the reader have an emotional reaction to characters that may not be very similar to the reader.


About David Levithan
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David Levithan (born 1972) is both an author of young adult fiction and an active participant in the publishing industry. He works as the Editorial Director at Scholastic, and he is founding editor of PUSH, which focuses on finding new authors in the young adult fiction genre.

David Levithan writes during his free time on weekends. His first book, Boy Meets Boy, was published in 2003. It was originally a Valentine's Day gift for his friends, and he has said that he sought to write the young adult gay book that he always wished for. Since then he was written a number of novels, some dealing with gay characters, others not. David Levithan has also collaborated with quite a few authors, perhaps the most popular at the time being Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, for which he wrote the "Nick" chapters.

Other works by David Levithan...
Boy Meets Boy (2003)
Marly's Ghost (2003)
The Realm of Possibility (2004)
Are We There Yet? (2005)
Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (2006)
Wide Awake (2006)
Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List (2007)
How They Met, And Other Stories (2008)



Multimedia

Below are two videos of David Levithan reading from How They Met, And Other Stories...



Click on the link below to hear a podcast of David Levithan talking about about tolerance, homophobia and getting the right books out to the kids who need them.

David Levithan Podcast

A Groovy Podcast of our own!


Additional Resources:
www.davidlevithan.com - David Levithan's official website
David Levithan's MySpace
Gay-Straight Alliance Network - A network for students looking to start a gay-straight alliance at their school
Gay-Straight Alliance - Another website on gay-straight alliances and some more information on homosexuality and discrimination
"Chicago Proposes Gay-Friendly High School" - An article from NPR on Chicago's proposal (audio too!)
"Chicago may get 'gay-friendly' high school" - An article on the same story as above, but from CNN.
GLBTQ- An encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer culture (specifically the Literature section)
K12 Academics: Queer Pedagogy - A brief introduction to and history of the idea of queer pedagogy.
The Gay and Lesbian Presence in American Literature - An article by David Bergman of Towson State University
GLAAD - Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation home page
ACLU - The Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project of the ACLU for Schools and Youth
"Ground Zero for School Tolerance"- An article about the controversy surrounding the formation of gay-straight alliance clubs.

--Reviewed By:
Daniel Pollert
Mark Beckwith
Kristyn M. Konal
Lonnie Spangler