never say this old dog can’t learn new – well, not tricks, per se, but at least learn… whatever it was i learned from the reader-reaction to my review of Boy Meets Boy, a lesson that may be best summed up as “optimistic fantasies are not harmful, karen!” here’s the recap – wayyyy back in the long ago, i read Boy Meets Boy for my YA readers’ advisory class, and my reading of it just happened to coincide with a disheartening wave of reports of violence against gay teens and gay teen suicides.
and there was something uncomfortable to me about reading this cotton candy wonderland gay utopia book and then hearing about another kid killing himself after being bullied by teenage douchebags. and the mother hen that roosts inside of me (OUCH – quit peckin’!) started worrying about the psychological toll it might inflict on someone to read a book that was so technicolor all-embracing of the sexual spectrum and then have to trudge back to their crummy high school full of bullying jerks.
but as i was informed, repeatedly, on that thread, by comments that continue to drop even now, nine years later – i was overreacting. so i’m not even gonna bother wringing my feathery little hands over this book, which is a less teeth-grittingly manic version of gaytopia, while still being an overwhelmingly positive take on the gay high school experience.
here, we meet dylan porter. he’s a high school senior, he’s easygoing and popular, he’s the star quarterback of his school’s team, and he can cook – taking on the responsibility of making dinner for himself and his emotionally distant father after his mother’s death. he’s also gay.
he’s been waiting to come out – concerned about how his father and his bro-ish friends will react, and his plan is to get a football scholarship and wait until college to break the news. unfortunately, his college prospects are jeopardized by his academic shortcomings, and unless he improves his grades in english and trig, he’s going to be benched. fortunately, his coach recruits tommy peterson to tutor him. unfortunately, tommy peterson is just his type: short, smart, and skinny, and dylan is having some difficulty concentrating and keeping his attraction – and his secret – under wraps.
the story is very, very sweet. and dylan is very, very dumb, but in a totally appealing way. dylan’s inner monologues tend towards the scattered and stream-of-consciousness as he wrestles with his sexual identity and flirts with tommy with all the doofy clumsiness of any teenage boy; wearing tight shirts and faux-casually flexing his biceps for tommy while fantasizing about just how skinny he is under those unfashionably baggy clothes. dylan’s got mad game on the field but zero game off of it, and you just wanna pinch his awkwardly blushing cheeks.
the reversal is a nice change of pace – the jock pursuing the nerd, self-conscious about what tommy could possibly see in him while expressing bewilderment when tommy doesn’t realize his own desirability.
I wanted to shake him until he got it in his head how awesome he was, but I knew shaking babies was bad, and I figured if it was bad for babies, then it probably wasn’t really good for adults, so I didn’t shake him.
dylan tries to resist tommy’s nerdy allure, but soon finds himself overcome by his feelings and outs himself, declaring his crush on tommy in a public spectacle worthy of any cheesy romcom, a confession that leads to an adorable locker-room scene showing that teamwork really does make the dream work, and – far from the homophobic shunning he’d been dreading once his secret was revealed, dylan’s teammates are 100% supportive of his sexuality and super-invested in getting him and the reluctant tommy together, embarking on an even more romcommy series of matchmaking schemes they approach with the same strategic verve they apply to mapping football plays.
it’s sweet and slapsticky without being cloying. and even though dylan’s teammates are enthusiastic and accepting of dylan’s homosexuality, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other homophobic high school douchebags to contend with, or other obstacles dylan needs to overcome.
but for the most part, this is a sweetly rose-colored coming-of-age/coming out story of first love full of solidarity and breaching the boundaries of high school cliques.
and since i am no longer worried about this kind of story leading to unrealistic optimism for all the teens navigating their own sexual awakenings, i encourage you all to read this because dylan is such a sweet heffalump of a protagonist.
oh god, so sweet! review TK, but awwwwwwwww, JOHN!
WILL JOHN PETRIE FIRE ME IF I DON’T LIKE HIS BOOK?
LET’S FIND OUT!