Patrick Ness’s new book, Different for Boys, is a complex tale of friendship, internalised homophobia and what it means to lose your virginity.
Ant Stevenson is a boy who likes boys. Whilst he’s had various sexual experiences, is he still a virgin? He questions when we truly lose it: is it just penetration? Or can it be oral, or hand stuff? Maybe its nothing to do with the act at all.
The hardback edition is stunning, with Ness’s words accompanied by Tea Bendix’s emotive illustrations, this is definitely a copy you’ll want to keep to yourself. Clocking in at just over a hundred pages, I was tempted to gobble this up in one sitting, but I made myself savour it over a few days.
Different for Boys follows our narrator Ant and his relationships with three other boys, Charlie, Freddie and Jack. One of the first things you notice when opening the book are the black boxes covering up some words.
Ness is no stranger to this sort of playfulness on the page (just like the Noise in his Chaos Walking trilogy, it’s perfectly executed) and it’s a clever nod to censorship in Young Adult publishing. Teenagers swear and have sex, so why can’t they read about it?
The black boxes are pure genius, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks themselves – which can make for an amusing reading experience if you have a dirty mind. Interestingly, the characters are also conscious of what’s being covered up: “It’s that kind of story,” Ant explains to Charlie.
Ness is acutely aware that there’s enough ‘queer gloom’ in the world right now, but that doesn’t mean that the world of Different for Boys is all sunshine and rainbows. The characters are complicated, messy and above all, real. They’re teenage boys: of course, they feel horny, get angry and fuck up sometimes. Sorry, I mean they [BLEEP] up sometimes.
Whilst I expected the short page count to leave me wanting more, I was left satisfied with how Ness wrapped things up. Despite all of the ups and downs we experience alongside Ant, the overarching message is one of hope. Hope that things do get better, that school isn’t the rest of your life, and that you are worthy of love.
If you’re a Patrick Ness fan, Differently for Boys will certainly not disappoint. And if you’re not a fan, why the hell aren’t you?
Featured Image Credit: Walker Books/Murdo Macleod
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