Saturday, December 12, 2009

Boy Meets Boy

I've said before that what the world needs is a black gay Jennifer Crusie. He hasn't yet arrived, but we're making progress, with a white gay Jennifer Crusie for young adults. I may be too optimistic, not having read David Levithan's other books, but I read his first YA novel, Boy Meets Boy, and it's a sweet delight. According to Band of Thebes, Levithan said he wrote it because it was the kind of book he always wanted to receive as an editor, and it's certainly the kind of book I always wanted to read -- the book I wish I could have read in high school, before David Levithan was born.

Okay, it's a fantasy, but like a good fantasy it's not so far from reality as to be irrelevant. In a small city not very far from New York, there's a remarkably but not impossibly gay-friendly high school. Paul, the narrator of BMB, is just this side of being a cipher: bright, unspecifically talented, with a supportive family and friends. He came out to his parents in kindergarten, to other kids in second grade, was elected the first openly gay president of his third grade class, having "carried the girl vote, the open-minded guy vote, the third-grade closet case vote, and the Ted-hater vote." (Ted, his opponent, ran on a DON'T VOTE FOR THE FAG platform, which garnered only "the rather tiny lint-head vote".) Paul then founded a gay-straight alliance in sixth grade. As the case of Ted shows, bigotry and fag discourse are not totally absent from Paul's world.
In eighth grade, I was tackled by two high school wrestlers after a late-night showing of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert at our local theater. At first, I thought it was a strange kind of foreplay, but then I realized that their grunts were actually insults -- queer, faggot, the usual. I wasn't about to take such verbal abuse from strangers -- only [his best friend, straight female] Joni was allowed to speak to me that way. Luckily, I had gone to the movie with a bunch of my friends from the fencing team, so they just pulled out their foils and disarmed the lugheads. (One of them, I've since heard, is now a drag queen in Columbus, Ohio. I like to think I had something to do with that.)
There are also some religious bigots to contend with later on, and a football player who wants payback after he's dumped by the school's star quarterback, Infinite Darlene (né Daryl). This makes the book not totally imaginary, a quasi-utopia which could conceivably exist someday... okay, maybe I'm fooling myself. What I think really appeals to me is that David Levithan's idea of the kind of world he'd like for gay youth is so close to my own. Plus other people have read and liked the book, which suggests that I'm not totally weird -- maybe just ahead of my time. Yeah, that's it.

Paul meets a new kid in school, Noah, also totally out but more conflicted, with a more intense relationship history. Levithan puts small obstacles in their way, just enough to sustain dramatic and erotic tension, and there's a small crisis that takes some ingenuity on Paul's part, with support from his friends, to resolve. (It's obviously a crisis that is required by the demands of the genre, but at the same time it rings true for the characters.) Resolve it he does, and all's well that ends well. No one is run over by a speeding bus, crushed by a falling tree limb, or commits suicide. Is that a spoiler? I don't think so. The starred Booklist review quoted on the dust jacket speculates that Boy Meets Boy "seems to represent a near revolution in the publishing of gay-themed books for adolescents." And about time, too!

The main difference between Boy Meets Boy and a Jennifer Crusie novel, aside from the trivial one of the same-sex romance at its heart, is that Levithan's characters are teenagers, unlike Crusie's late-thirties to early-forties protagonists. They're less finished as persons and carry a lot less baggage. But they could grow up to be Crusie's intelligent, resourceful, and likeable characters; I feel that they are living in the same fictional universe. Only gay. Now we just need a gay black Jennifer Crusie, and the time will be fulfilled, and the kingdom of heaven will be at hand.

And this is Levithan's first book! I have a feeling I'm going to read most of the rest of them in the coming month.