Book Review: Different for Boys by Patrick Ness with illustrations by Tea Bendix
Friendship, masculinity, sex—Anthony Stevenson has a lot of questions. Is it different for boys who like boys? A poignant and frank story filled with meta-humor by renowned author Patrick Ness.
Anthony “Ant” Stevenson isn’t sure when he stopped being a virgin. Or even if he has. The rules aren’t always very clear when it comes to boys who like boys. In fact, relationships of all kinds feel complicated, even with Ant’s oldest friends. There’s Charlie, who’s both virulently homophobic and in a secret physical relationship with Ant. Then there’s drama kid Jack, who may be gay and has become the target of Charlie’s rage. And, of course, there’s big, beautiful Freddie, who wants Ant to ditch soccer, Charlie’s sport, and try out for the rugby team instead. Ant’s story of loneliness and intimacy, of unexpected support and heart-ripping betrayal, is told forthrightly with tongue-in-cheek black-bar redactions over the language that teenagers would actually use if, you know, they weren’t in a story. Award-winning author Patrick Ness explores teen sexuality, friendship, and romance with a deft hand in this structurally daring, illustrated short novel.
Here’s the thing: what I want most in life when reading is novelty. Show me something new, different, daring, straight up weird. I want it. Ever since I could read, I’ve spent my every spare second reading. I read hundreds of books a year. While I read plenty of books I enjoy or love or find profound, I don’t read too many that leave me thinking, Now THAT was different (and not in that passive-aggressive Minnesotan way of saying something is different, meaning totally out there in bad and negatively weird way). I adore Patrick Ness. The Rest of Us Just Live Here is one of my favorite books ever. A Monster Calls left me crying so hard my child was alarmed. Ness excels at daring. And this book? A scant 104 pages of spare text, much of which is literally redacted with a black box over it, and tons of large, sketched illustrations? It’s daring.
As usual with Ness, I laughed at so many of the quips and the tone (at times), but also was gutted by what the characters go through. I felt for all of them. Ant and Charlie are hooking up in secret. You know, just as something to do until a girl comes along (at least for Charlie, allegedly). Charlie is abrasive and homophobic and extremely possessive of Ant. Ant is caring and kind and loyal and it’s surprising his best friend would be Charlie, who is so mean. Their little table in a class is rounded out with the return of Josh, a football player who wants Ant to quit soccer and join football (and is a threat to Charlie as competition for Ant’s friendship), and Jack, a theater kid who is probably gay. For such a short book, wow does it pack a punch (eventually literally).
Ness tells a tale of toxic masculinity, homophobia, sexuality, and loneliness. And he does it by redacting all of the “bad” stuff. You know in The Good Place when Eleanor is first like, “Somebody forked up. Why can’t I say forked?” (And Chidi tells her there’s no swearing in the good place, to which she replies, “That’s bullshirt.”) Well, here, that’s how the black boxes work. In fact, while Charlie and Ant are talking, Charlie says, “What the [redacted] just happened? What are these [redacted] black boxes?” And Ant tells him that essentially this is just that kind of story, that you can’t show certain things in this story because “we’re too young to read about the stuff that we actually do, right?”
Damn, Patrick Ness. Damn. Or maybe I mean [Redacted], Patrick Ness. [Redacted.] Tell it like it is!
This raw, emotional, experimental story is a powerful read. In turns melancholy, brutal, and funny, this is an innovative look at loneliness and sexuality.
Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Publication date: 03/14/2023
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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