So far as I’m aware, John Donovan’s I’ll Get There. It Better Be Worth the Trip (Harper, 1969) was the first US teen novel to have a gay character. In the UK, David Rees’s Quintin’s Man (Dobson, 1976) and later, In the Tent (Dobson, 1979) were the books in which gay characters first appeared. Such representations have remained thin on the teen fiction ground until relatively recently and in the main the message such novels have conveyed (accurately many would say, given homophobia in society) is that being gay is a problem.
Three decades on from I’ll Get There… David Levithan’s novel Boy Meets Boy could not be more different. Paul has always known that he is gay. He is out at school and in his community and a gay sexual identity is simply no big deal. Heads don’t even swivel at the flamboyant arrival of his drag queen friend, Infinite Darlene, the school football captain with the long fingernails. In Paul’s town, ‘there isn’t really a gay scene or a straight scene… They all got mixed up a while back, which I think is for the best…This is my town. I’ve lived here all my life.’
There will be many lonely and isolated young people in our schools who know they are gay or think they might be gay who will wish, on reading this book, that they could pack up and move to Paul’s town where sexual identity is not an issue. For Paul and his friends, gay and straight, exploring who they are as people and what kind of relationships they want is what matters. Levithan thus gives us, in Boy Meets Boy, a delightful romantic comedy set not in the real world of homophobic bullying and discrimination but in the world as it should be. That such a utopia can now exist, albeit in this fictional form, will perhaps help to pave the way for a real world where young gay people can find acceptance and understanding without fear. At the very least, Boy Meets Boy represents this hope.
The Box of Delights competition
Does the ending to Masefield’s The Box of Delights disappoint you? Young readers up to the age of 15 are invited to enter Books for Keeps’ competition for an alternative ending (see Classics in Short p. 28). The competition will be judged by the Bishop of Tatchester (aka Brian Alderson), his grand-daughter Naomi whose idea it was and me as Editor of BfK. Egmont, the publisher of The Box of Delights, will be offering a set of five Egmont classics to the winner. Send up to 500 words to Books for Keeps by 20 April and don’t forget to put your name, address and age on your entry.
Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan is published by HarperCollins (0 00 719137 5) at £10.99.