It’s back! The blog advent calendar. I enjoyed last year’s blog theme last year—re-reading twenty-four books of my youth—so much, so this year I’m applying the same approach to short stories, trawling through a myriad bunch of collections and anthologies I’ve read in the last few years.
December 20th: Starbucks Boy by David Levithan
Tell me about your first time: If you asked me, I’d normally tell you I discovered David Levithan just a little too late. I’m not even sure how I discovered him (my best guess would be a list of ‘essential gay reading’) but I know how old I was: eighteen, in my first year of university. I didn’t have the smoothest ride of adolescence, at least from the point of view of coming to terms with being gay, and coming out. The two years after turning sixteen were complicated and confusing, but by the time I’d gone off to university, all that was behind me. I embraced my sexuality, and my new identity, and I did my own thing.
And I read a lot. The first Levithan I read was Boy Meets Boy, and it’s great, but also quite caught up in the trappings of American schooling, and so it never quite resonated with me in a personal way. Then I read How They Met and fell in love with the book; on a list of my ten favourite books ever (written aged eighteen), this was near the top. (I can prove it: it’s still on my defunct myspace page, because I was that era, just.) It’s full of characters that feel real, complex and often flawed, but always with an eye on the romance. Not the slushy, sweeping romance that dominates charts, but awkward, tentative, celebratory human romance; again: real, complex and often flawed. And also, predominantly gay. Which was wonderful to read, and to be able to recognise parts of myself in their stories and their interactions. I remember thinking: I wish I’d found this two, three, four years ago, when it would have done me some good.
Sum it up: The book is a collection of ‘meetings’ – couples meeting in a variety of ways. Some are meetcutes, and some are a touch sharper round the edges. Some are moments in time, and some run the length of the whole person’s life. I re-read the entire book (though I only meant to read one story, the first, ‘Starbucks Boy’, in which a youth is unknowingly fixed up with the cute boy at Starbucks by the precocious six-year-old girl he is babysitting.)
Give me a quote: “Only in New York (and maybe San Francisco) could a six-year-old have gaydar.” (There are numerous much more extensive quotes I’ve picked, but I chose this one because, before I even picked up the book to re-read it, I could have quoted that line at you. It made me laugh uproariously the first time I read it.)
Second reading: Ok, first off, to the business of this blog: ‘Starbucks Boy’ is hilarious. I remembered it being sweet and quite funny, but I was giggling away to myself reading it this time. The building flirtation between the narrator and Starbucks Boy is helped along by the girl, Arabella, who has locked herself in the Starbucks toilet and is gleefully prodding things along from within. It’s absolutely deadpan, very funny, and is crying out for a short film adaptation. And that’s where I meant to stop reading (otherwise I’d never finish this blog every day) but instead I carried on, and re-read the rest of the book.
Perhaps like one of his characters, I thought I knew it all when I was eighteen. The complex bit of being a teenager was over, and now I was an adult. I know what love felt like, and I knew how it all worked. Simple. Reading a book of stories about gay kids meeting, about gay kids falling in love, it was nice, but I didn’t need it to feel okay about myself. I already felt okay; I’d got this whole thing sorted out in my head. Re-reading How They Met I found myself remembering this eighteen-year-old version of me and thinking… what an idiot. Of course you had no idea, of course you were still making it up as you went along. And more importantly: of course you needed this book, and books like it. You always did, you always will.
So really, thank god for David Levithan, and all the other authors writing stories about gay kids meeting and falling in love. Those stories are as essential now at twenty-eight as they were at eighteen, and sixteen, and thirteen, and ten, and… well. You get it, I’m sure.
Where can I read it: In How They Met and Other Stories.