Ant Stevenson is finding life complicated. As a 15-year-old boy who likes boys, the questions are piling up and there don’t seem to be any answers. We join him in Year 11 as he navigates changing friendships and the thorny topics of masculinity, sexuality, and internalised homophobia. With warmth, relatability and personal insight, Different for Boys by Patrick Ness helps Ant (and us) unpick the issues.
It begins, unexpectedly, in a geography lesson, when a rejigged seating plan finds Ant at a table with three pals from primary school. Once great playmates, it’s fair to say that the four boys have since put childish things aside, as the conversation around the table is all sweary banter and ribaldry. Some of it is also overtly homophobic and Ant feels that his uncool school is stuck in the 1980’s. His sexuality must remain a secret, along with the fact that he’s already intimately involved with one of the boys, enjoying naked frolics of all kinds, but never once kissing.
‘We can’t kiss. Because that would make us gay.’
It’s suggested as a bit of fun, getting in practice for some imaginary future girlfriend, but it leaves Ant feeling lonely and hurt. As the group dynamic becomes turbulent, his confusion grows.
One of the most illustrious writers in the YA canon, Ness’ teenage characters always shine with authenticity. This is a writer who remembers the complexities of adolescence and has some pointed comments to make. Swear words and sexual descriptions are redacted, leaving us to fill in the blanks, Ness believes that teen fiction is never allowed to portray adolescent vocabulary in its true graphic glory.
Artist, Tea Bendix, complements the tale with expressive drawings that appear, fittingly, to have been sketched with HB school pencils.
A perceptive and empathic read.
Different for Boys by Patrick Ness is published by Walker Books, 104 pages.