Study Guide

Boy Meets Boy Themes

  • Love

    You know how there are all kinds of books about love for teenage girls? You know how the boys in those books always have names like Spencer or Colt, and the girls always have cute, quirky first and last names that start with the same letter? Yeah well gay boys with normal names need love too, and Boy Meets Boy is here to fill the void.

    Paul is the same kind of bumbling, self-deprecating, doesn't-realize-how-cute-he-is narrator we've come to expect from YA love stories. Noah's the same kind of idealized dreamboat as a Spencer, Colt, or other floppy-haired dude who rides up adorably on a skateboard and sweeps the narrator off her—or in this case, his—feet. And just in case that's not enough, there are a few subplots about teen romance, too. It's a full-time lovefest up in here.

    Questions About Love

    1. How did Paul and Tony know they weren't meant to be boyfriends? 
    2. Do you think Tony and Kyle will end up together? Does the end of the book insinuate that they like each other? 
    3. Why can't Joni see what a loser Chuck is? What makes a person stay with their significant other despite repeated warnings from friends? 
    4. Why does Chuck think that getting with Joni, specifically, will make Infinite Darlene jealous? Could Joni have been just anybody?

    Chew on This

    Noah and Paul never have a moment of wondering if the other is gay. People in their town just assume that the majority of people are gay, even teenagers, just like most people assume heterosexuality in the real world.

    Paul already thinks Noah's a four-star babe, but when he sees Noah painting music, the hardcore crushitude really gets underway. Seeing someone do the thing they're good at tends to make them so much swoonier.

  • Sexuality and Sexual Identity

    Imagine if you will a place where it's totally cool to be gay. Sure, there are still homophobic parents who shun their children because of religion (we're looking at you, Tony's mom and dad), but Paul's folks are just like most other locals. When five-year-old Paul told his mom he was gay, she was just impressed he had learned a new word. Fast forward a decade, and Paul's still straight-up gay (ha).

    Kyle, on the other hand, is struggling with the eternal bisexual conundrum: is he just fooling himself? Why can't he pick a gender and just be attracted to it already? Why can't his sense of self be as strong as Paul's? While Boy Meets Boy includes a model accepting community, characters still have plenty to sort out when it comes to their sexuality and orientations.

    Questions About Sexuality and Sexual Identity

    1. Do you believe any town will ever become as accepting of LGBTQ people as Paul's? Does such a town already exist? 
    2. Bisexual people often find gay people telling them they're really gay and straight people telling them they're really straight, or vice versa. Why do you think this happens? 
    3. Note that there's no actual sex in Boy Meets Boy. Chuck insinuates to Infinite Darlene that he's getting it, but there's nothing more graphic than that. If Levithan was breaking new ground in gay YA, why didn't he even mention gay sex?

    Chew on This

    Noah and Paul communicate largely through notes. Back in 2003, everybody didn't have a smartphone in their pockets, so there was no 24/7 texting and Facebooking. Paul makes Noah a scroll; Noah hands Paul an actual photograph. It's a much more intimate and tangible way of communicating your feelings.

    Even though they live in a very accepting town, Kyle experiences guilt and confusion about his bisexuality. You don't have to live in a family like Tony's to internalize homophobia.

  • Friendship

    Sure on the surface Boy Meets Boy is all about boyfriends—namely getting, losing, and/or keeping them. But the boyfriends themselves are only part of the story. When someone gets a new boyfriend, s/he is often forced to reassess his/her friendships. How do you divide your time equally between your boyfriend and your friends? How do you deal when your friends don't like your new guy? What happens when you have a date to the dance but your best friend doesn't?

    Tony, Joni, and Paul might have thought nothing could separate them, but when two get boyfriends and one doesn't, they begin to question everything they thought they knew about their BFF-ness.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. Paul says he sees the limits of his friendship with Infinite Darlene whenever he has a secret. She tells him everything, but he can't tell her anything without it getting around. Why does he still choose to be friends with her? 
    2. Why doesn't Chuck want Joni to go to Tony's house the night of the dance?  
    3. Tony doesn't talk about his friends at his school. Do you think he has any?

    Chew on This

    Paul and Tony are such good friends they have their own language. They're just making up words, but it resembles twin language, a real and really interesting phenomenon in which twins make up their own syntax and have meaningful conversations. While biologically unrelated, growing up gay together has fostered a similar closeness between Paul and Tony.

    Sometimes breaking up with a friend is worse than breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend.

  • Family

    Okay, so let's talk about Tony. Levithan's inspiration for the character was his best friend's other best friend, who grew up in a religious household with homophobic parents. Around the same time he heard the guy's story, Levithan was obsessed with Patty Griffin's song "Tony," about the suicide of a gay boy—thus the tragic, lovable Tony of Boy Meets Boy was born.

    Watching him deal with his parents is a painful undercurrent of an otherwise lighthearted book. Levithan gives us a reminder that even in a world as accepting as Paul's, being gay still carries a stigma, and sometimes that stigma comes from your own family. It's the author's way of saying, we've come so far, but some of us still fight the war at home.

    Questions About Family

    1. Why doesn't Tony's mother come and hold him when she sees Paul holding him? 
    2. There's a scene in Boy Meets Boy in which Joni's mom says she's missed Paul, and one in which Paul's mom says she's missed Tony. How do you think his mom's refusal to welcome or even get to know his friends affects Tony? 
    3. Will Tony have to hide his friendship with Kyle from his parents? 
    4. Why do we see the moms interacting with Paul, Tony, and Joni, but not the dads?

    Chew on This

    If Tony's mom doesn't get to know Tony's friends, she doesn't have to get to know their parents. If she doesn't have to be part of that village it supposedly takes to raise a child, she doesn't have to consider different ideas about how to raise a child.

    We don't see Joni's dad or learn anything about him. Just speculating here, but sometimes girls with absent fathers pick controlling or otherwise lousy boyfriends. How your parents treat you affects the people you choose to date.

  • Gender

    Just as Paul's town is an idyllic place to be gay, it's an idyllic place to be transgender. Infinite Darlene is the only trans character in Boy Meets Boy, but she doesn't deal with any kind of transphobia in the narrative. She's so free to be who she is that she comes to school wearing a white pleather miniskirt, and when she's voted homecoming queen, she wears both her quarterback jersey and her tiara.

    Levithan plays somewhat fast and loose with the terminology of gender, with Paul mentioning at one point that "the other drag queens" didn't like her. It is important to now however, that Infinite Darlene lives her life all the time as a girl, so she's not just putting on a wig on weekends. It's never made clear how she identifies herself, but her classmates all see her unquestioningly as female and refer to her by her chosen female name.

    Questions About Gender

    1. Why is Chuck's crush on a trans person never questioned or even mentioned? 
    2. You might think anyone on the gender-variant continuum would be supportive of others, but the drag queens refuse to sit with Infinite Darlene at lunch. Why? Because they think her football nails are an abomination. In exploring their identities as girls, the drag queens have chosen to be mean girls. Why? 
    3. Why might Levithan omit any moments of Infinite Darlene self-identifying?

    Chew on This

    It is imperative that people be in charge of their own gender identification, and with this in mind, it is not okay that Levithan does not have Infinite Darlene ever self-identify.

    So this Infinite thing… The words infinite and invincible are interchangeable when applied to teenagers.

  • Art and Culture

    That Noah, he certainly knows how to woo a boy:

    Oh, no biggie, Paul, I'll just invite you over to my Matchbox dream room with the multicolored ceiling, stereo hammock, and passage to Narnia, and we'll paint some music. And then when you do the sweetest thing ever, sending me messages in extraordinarily creative ways every day for a week, I'll out-sweet you by taking a series of "wish you were here" photos, the last of them in my secret art studio. And then, when you pick me up for the dance, I'll give you a photo of a flower, because boutonnieres are so pedestrian.

    Okay, so that's not exactly how things go down in Boy Meets Boy but it's pretty darn close.

    Q: Could these boys court each other any more artfully? A: Not without summoning Picasso from the grave.

    Questions About Art and Culture

    1. How are Noah's artistic abilities central to Paul's falling in love with him? 
    2. Noah is an artist who fills his living space with art. Some artists prefer a plain living space but a vibrant studio space. How do you think the artsiness, or lack thereof, of an artist's home (or in this case, bedroom) influences his work? 
    3. What do you do with a picture of a flower when someone gives it to you instead of a corsage? 
    4. Could Paul and Noah have fallen so hard if their music and movies didn't match up on the first date? Could you love someone with cringeworthy taste?

    Chew on This

    When Noah brings Paul into his studio to paint music, he's really finding out if they have an accessible, alternate means of communication—a sort of shorthand.

    Kyle draws the dowager's portrait in her crypt because he sees Noah at the cemetery taking photos, and he knows Paul finds that attractive.

  • Religion

    Oof, religion. Sure it's given us some great things, such as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Gaudi's Spanish churches, Mother Theresa, and holidays where we get to eat lots of delicious pie. On the other hand though, it's driven plenty of families apart for reasons that shouldn't matter, such as politics and sexuality.

    Instead of trying to understand where Tony's coming from, his parents—particularly his mom—set out to convert him. Tony's parents's religion centers around the idea of salvation, but true salvation for Tony in Boy Meets Boy occurs when his friends show up at the door and take him to the dance.

    Questions About Religion

    1. Is it true that religions are "all the same at a certain point" like Paul says? In what ways are they different? 
    2. Are there any religions that are okay with gay people? 
    3. Would Tony have come out sooner, like Paul, if his parents hadn't been religious? How long did he have to hide the fact that he was gay, and what does having to hide like that do to a gay kid?

    Chew on This

    Tony's parents's fervent prayers upon finding out he's gay may be to God, but they're also to Tony. His parents wouldn't pray so loudly if some part of them didn't want to guilt him into being straight.

    Levithan never mentions religion as it relates to any of the other characters, so Tony's parents seem to be an anomaly, at least in their hometown. So not only has Levithan imagined a world in which being gay is a nonissue, but also a world in which nonbelievers are the majority. In doing so, he hasn't given religion a fair shake.

  • Happiness

    If Boy Meets Boy didn't end happily, readers who went along on this lighthearted journey in this almost-perfect town would have been sorely disappointed. And indeed, we get the basic plotline that follows the beginning boy meets boy, which is boy loses boy (middle) and then boy wins boy (end). That all plays out here, but with a twist: what really makes everybody happy is not the moment when they're alone with their boyfriends, but the moment when they're all together as friends.

    In fact, you could say the happiness happens in spite of the boyfriends, or lack thereof: at the end of the book, Joni's still with Chuck, and Tony's still single, but as long as everybody's got their friends, they're happy.

    Questions About Happiness

    1. Do happiness and sadness become flip sides of the same coin when you're in love?  
    2. Does true happiness intensify the fear of sadness?  
    3. If you make someone else responsible for your happiness, like Joni does with Chuck, is the happiness you feel actually real? 
    4. Can friends give you a kind of happiness a boyfriend or girlfriend can't? How are they the same? How are they different?

    Chew on This

    Tony's friendship with Paul is based on mutual hope; his friendship with Kyle is based on mutual loneliness.

    The moment in the book when Paul arguably feels the saddest is not when Noah dumps him, but when Joni does. It's definitely when he feels the most anger. It can be more agonizing to break up with a long-time friend than a short-term boyfriend, no matter how in love you are with the latter.