Patrick Ness (And the Ocean Was Our Sky) offers a raw yet tender portrayal of the homosexuality and masculinity of several white, cisgender high school boys in the starkly illustrated YA novel Different for Boys.
Ant, who speaks directly to readers in his first-person narration, reunites with his childhood friend group, including effeminate, closeted Jack and blatantly homophobic Charlie. Ant reveals he is in a clandestine intimate relationship with Charlie, but the jock "makes it clear we're just goofing around." Despite Charlie's public macho posturing and his homophobia-fueled verbal and physical attacks on others, Ant continues to defend "the Charlie no one knows but me." Ant's pain and longing is palpable as he pivots between his desire for a deeper romantic connection with Charlie, wanting but failing to support Jack, and grappling with his own sexuality.
Throughout the story, Ant maintains a private, honest conversation with the reader even as words, phrases and whole sentences are censored with black boxes. "Certain words are necessary because this is real life, but you can't actually show 'em because we're too young to read about the stuff we actually do, right?" Debut illustrator Tea Bendix's striking unpolished pencil and digital collage art depicts the characters and setting both realistically and through visual metaphor. Bendix often depicts the young men as being somewhat transparent, and grayscale hallways and classrooms echo the brutal honesty and the imperfect realities laid bare in the text. Ness's forceful storytelling fused with Bendix's rich sketches result in an achingly beautiful reflection of the multiple, messy realities and experiences of young queerness. --Kieran Slattery, freelance reviewer, teacher, co-creator of Gender Inclusive Classrooms