cover image Different for Boys

Different for Boys

Patrick Ness, illus. by Tea Bendix. Walker US, $18.99 (104p) ISBN 978-1-5362-2889-2

Ness (Burn) cheekily utilizes fourth wall–breaking meta-humor and redacted curse words, derogatory language, and descriptions of sexual acts to craft an affecting novella that explores sexuality and toxic masculinity. Fifteen-year-old Ant Stevenson and his best friend Charlie Shepton have been “goofing around” sexually. Though their mutual arrangement is meant to help them blow off steam, Ant is left wondering why he so desperately wants to kiss Charlie, despite it being against their agreed upon rules, which state that kissing “would make us gay.” When a new classroom setup seats Ant and Charlie with drama kid Jack, who everyone assumes is queer, Ant wrestles with complex affections for Charlie and fledgling romantic feelings for Jack. Ant is an immediately likable protagonist, whose efforts to sort out his desires while maintaining relationships with classmates is admirable and empathetic. Ness delivers an authentic-feeling story that interrogates the idea that teens are “too young to read about the stuff we actually do.” Black-and-white pencil illustrations by Bendix provide an expressive complement to concise, sensitive, and thought-provoking text in this un-put-downable, easily devoured read. Characters are assumed white. Ages 14–up. (Mar.)