This is a story about tangled sexual affiliations. Paul, the protagonist, is a high school senior in the USA who is gay. He is quite comfortable with his sexuality. Despite what the title might encourage the reader to expect, this is definitely not the story of a traumatic coming out. Noah is a gay newcomer to the high school, to whom Paul is attracted. A third member of this group is Kyle, who believes (without certainty) that he is gay: Kyle has in the past been attracted to Paul. On the fringes of the group is Tony, another gay boy who attends a different school. Tony’s deeply religious parents are not exactly thrilled by their son’s sexual orientation.
Just to add a discordant note, there is a straight girl named Joni who is a friend to all these boys, having befriended Paul in third grade. A natural plot development is that Joni gets a boyfriend whom all the aforementioned boys heartily dislike, a football jock straight from central casting.
I must admit that, as someone who was in high school in London not all that long ago, I found the prevalence of the sexual culture of this book somewhat unconvincing. The easy and unquestioning way in which sexual diversity is accepted among these teenagers is thoroughly enlightened and admirable. I just find it impossible to imagine such a culture flourishing in a British school. In London schools I have heard the word ‘gay’ used as a pejorative term for feeble or effeminate: ‘don’t be so gay’.
The most outstanding merit of Levithan’s book is the clarity with which the complex emotional links between the different players are expressed. Particularly strongly described is the entirely Platonic friendship between Paul and Tony. There is a moving scene where Paul insists that Tony must be honest about his orientation in dealings with his conventionally-minded parents. Tony’s anguish, and the fear he feels of the threat to his relationship with his parents, are tangible to the reader.