Title: Different For Boys
Author: Patrick Ness
Edition: Kindle ARC
Another short, illustrated, high-concept and punchy book from Patrick Ness. Different For Boys explores the concept of virginity and the validity of sexual experiences from the point of view of sixteen-year-old Ant and his school friends. The conversations between the boys are predictably full of bravado and banter, but Ant’s introspection gives the book a moving and emotional core.
To keep the book suitable for the YA audience, language you might expect to hear from sixteen-year-old boys has been censored, but in a novel and thought-provoking way. Instead of substituting milder swear words and sexual references, each allegedly unsuitable word or concept is hidden behind a black box in the text, and the characters are aware of the boxes. Of course, the first thing they do is test the limits of the censorship, discovering which words are acceptable, and which will be blacked out. It’s a clever protest against the watering down of the realities of teenage life in fiction aimed at teenagers. Swear words and direct descriptions of sexual experiences are censored, while the boys are surprised by the occasional, potentially offensive word that is permitted. The flip side of the censorship is that the reader fills in the gaps. If you are old enough to understand the concepts in the book, most of the boxes will be irrelevant, and you will be able to follow the conversations with no trouble. If not, you are ‘protected’ from concepts that many adults would prefer teenagers not to encounter, while directly questioning what might be forbidden, and hidden behind the frequent strips of black.
Over the course of the book, Ant reflects on several different sexual encounters as he tries to decide what constitutes the loss of his virginity – especially as a boy who likes boys. Different For Boys might be a quick read, but Ant’s questioning attitude and conversations with his friends draw the reader in, and emphasise the emotional aspects of his experiences without offering any kind of Happy Ever After or neat resolution. It’s a book about questions, relationships of all kinds, and the lack of a road map for teenagers discovering their own sexuality – and how that relates to the people around them. I found it moving without being sentimental, frank without being gratuitous, and infuriating that the knowing censorship is needed to allow this book to exist.
Every word feels carefully chosen, every scene is carefully crafted, and the illustrations add to the themes of uncertainty and exploration. This is a jewel of a book – beautiful, compact, and with a powerful message. Recommended.
Different For Boys will be published on March 2nd. Thank you to NetGalley and Walker Books for the ARC copy.
Have you read Different for Boys? What did you think of the back-box censorship? Did you feel the content was suitable for a teenage audience? Click through to the full blog to access the comments section, and share your thoughts! No spoilers, though – you can post those on GoodReads!
YA review: Different For Boys cross-posted to GoodReads.
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