Boy Meets Boy

Boy Meets Boy
David Levithan
Difficulty: Easy
Amazon, Barnes and Noble

Blurb from Amazon:

“This is the story of Paul, a sophomore at a high school like no other: The cheerleaders ride Harleys, the homecoming queen used to be a guy named Daryl (she now prefers Infinite Darlene and is also the star quarterback), and the gay-straight alliance was formed to help the straight kids learn how to dance.

When Paul meets Noah, he thinks he’s found the one his heart is made for. Until he blows it. The school bookie says the odds are 12-to-1 against him getting Noah back, but Paul’s not giving up without playing his love really loud. His best friend Joni might be drifting away, his other best friend Tony might be dealing with ultra-religious parents, and his ex-boyfriend Kyle might not be going away anytime soon, but sometimes everything needs to fall apart before it can really fit together right.

This is a happy-meaningful romantic comedy about finding love, losing love, and doing what it takes to get love back in a crazy-wonderful world.”

It’s a little strange that such a flamboyant novel has such an unassuming name, but it actually fits pretty well. Beneath the campy exterior is a surprisingly deliberate and thoughtful coming-of-age romance with a meaningful message. Drag queen quarterbacks and harley-riding cheerleaders aren’t just there for comic relief (though they are often humorous), they also represent a utopic vision of society, one in which the star quarterback could be a drag queen. And that’s more or less what Boy Meets Boy is about. It’s delightful to explore Paul’s improbably progressive town and school and see the ways in which Levithan sets about subverting heternormative society as he creates his queer paradise. But unlike many other gay YA novels, he never forgets about the way things actually are. Paul’s friend Tony lives in the next town over, a town which more accurately reflects the actual societal attitude of 2003, and has very religious, very controlling parents. Tony serves as a constant reminder that, while Paul’s life might be charmed, the world still has its problems.

Paul’s character is particularly notable for being pretty much the only person in the novel not completely riddled with teenage angst. In contrast to most other YA protagonists, his life has been downright easy, something Levithan makes a point of emphasizing. Paul never struggled with his sexuality, his parents were accepting, and he’s never faced any social or physical consequences for his orientation, but most of his friends can’t stay the same. It’s a little weird reading a story from the perspective of the one person who’s just completely fine. Watching him solve problems thoughtfully and maturely was a bit bewildering at times because it’s so out of character for the genre. I’m not entirely sure why this aspect of Paul’s character is important to Levithan, but he’s pretty clear that it is. I suppose Paul’s ability to handle emotionally challenging situations caused me to reflect on similar situations in my life and to examine the reasons I might respond the way I do. How much of my behavior is colored by experiences grappling with my sexuality or the consequences of it? Paul could also be viewed as a bit of an instruction manual, demonstrating the right way to behave instead of validating more typical, emotionally charged responses. Regardless of the reason, Paul is a large part of what makes Boy Meets Boy stand out from the (admittedly small) gay YA crowd.

Less

Less
Andrew Sean Greer
Difficulty: Medium
Amazon, Barnes and Noble

I wasn’t planning to do Less for a long time since this site is mostly geared toward bringing attention to books that may have flown under the radar, but it’s been a favorite punching bag of wannabe literary snobs for a couple years now and I every time I read another “wHaT wAs ThE PuLiTzEr CoMmItTeE tHiNkInG” I get all fired up about it again. So, here we are. There seems to be this bizarre idea that the Pulitzer should only be given to books that ‘measure up’ against the great classics of Western literature, as if we publish four or five such books every year instead of MAYBE one a decade if we’re lucky. And of course, what are these great classics? What makes them great? Who gets to decide the answers to those questions? You’ll be hard pressed to find any two people with precisely the same answers to those questions, much less an entire committee, which is the entire point of having a committee determine the winner rather than a single person. Less is as worthy of the award as any of its other winners regardless of its ability to measure up against the ‘classics.’ And, believe it or not, I think it actually has an important place in the history of gay literature.

The two biggest things about Less which work against its popularity in the mainstream are the fact that it’s about a gay man just living his life–instead of angstily grappling with cruel society or suffering like a good gay–and that it’s humorous (you wouldn’t believe how many people think ‘good literature’ shouldn’t be funny). Mediocre novelist Arthur Less is about to turn 50 when he receives an invitation to the wedding of his only recently separated partner of nine years. In a frantic attempt to make himself unavailable on that date, he accepts a number of invitations to dubious literary events around the world. Over the course of the next few months Arthur finds himself stumbling from one ill-conceived interview or party to the next, all the while reminiscing about his past relationships and desperately trying not to think of his impending 50th birthday.

I think Less is noteworthy as an early entry into a new era of gay literature, one determined to move forward from, but not forget, the struggles which earned us our status as a (somewhat) accepted group in American society. It’s a lighthearted and unapologetic presentation of contemporary gay culture, featuring casual relationships, age differences, and multiple partners. All very normal in the gay community, but still considered risqué by mainstream culture. Nobody likes to age, but aging is a particularly difficult topic in the gay community where youth is so highly valued, and there aren’t many people out there to show gay men how to age since the previous generation was decimated by AIDS. And it just feels good to laugh. Too much gay literature is soul-crushingly tragic, and comedies and other lighthearted books are sorely needed. I’m not here to say that Less is the greatest book ever written, but I think it brings a lot to the table. I complained in my post about What Belongs To You that the book appeared carefully crafted to appeal to a mainstream audience rather than a queer one. Less, on the other hand, seems to be a book about the gay community, for the gay community, and I think that makes it a worthy ambassador to the mainstream, which is probably why there’s so much complaining about it.

The Lightning-Struck Heart

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The Lightning-Struck Heart
by TJ Klune
Difficulty: Easy
Amazon, Barnes and Noble

TJ Klune is an absolute machine, somehow churning out at least four reasonably well-developed romances every year. While they are always romances, Klune tries to write in as many genres and with as many types of characters as he can. The Lightning-Struck Heart was Klune’s first stab at high-fantasy and comes off fairly well partly due to his decision to take a comedic approach to the genre.

Sam of the Wilds is an incorrigible apprentice wizard in the kingdom of Verania, and he’s been mooning after the dreamy knight-commander Ryan Foxheart for years. But of course Ryan ends up getting engaged to the ill-tempered Prince Justin instead, crushing Sam’s long-cherished dreams. But when Justin is kidnapped by an apparently very horny dragon, Ryan, Sam, and his friends Gary the hornless gay unicorn and Tiggy the half-giant, set out to rescue him, all while Sam tries to ignore the growing closeness between himself and Ryan.

It’s cute and funny, and absolutely relentless with the punchlines. There’s pretty much no downtime between the jokes, which to some might be a little exhausting, but it’s largely in keeping with the characters. Much of the book’s humor is on the outrageous and over-the-top side, but there’s also a steady stream of banter mixed in with the more pronounced jokes. I still find Klune’s habit of continually retelling certain moments from the story to be tiresome, but it’s easily solved by skipping ahead to the next scene. The Lightning-Struck Heart is a welcome reminder that it’s important to laugh and have fun, especially when gay literature is so often depressing and tragic.