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Letters About Literature National Winners 2017

National Honor Winner, Level 3: Samantha Lynn Kiss

Dear David Levithan,

My grandparents fell in love over a coin toss. I met my best friend through a scheduling conflict. So much of my life has relied on serendipity, and I can’t help but believe that discovering your book Boy Meets Boy is another one of those miracles.

I was only thirteen years old when I found it on my cousin’s bookshelf. The title alone had a gravitational pull that kept tugging me back. I could see three hearts on the spine and my own beat faster. I was afraid that taking it off the shelf would alert her to my grand secret, but I couldn’t stop my fingers from ghosting past its spine over and over again. I am forever indebted to my cousin, who saw through my feigned indifference and said: “If you’re so interested, just take it.”

I obliged. Thank God I did.

When I opened your book, I opened my heart. It introduced me to the LGBT+ community, and, although I didn’t know it at the time, prepared a home for me in two of its consonants. Before reading this story, I’d never seen gay people depicted as normal humans. They were always in the background of popular media, providing sassy remarks and fashion advice, but never driving the story. Boy Meets Boy gave Paul the keys to take the narrative anywhere he wanted. Paul’s relationship with Noah and their supportive families showed me that there wasn’t anything inherently dirty or sinful about homosexuality. I realized, for the first time, that gay people could be protagonists.

The book also handled differences in belief with grace. Tony’s parents struck a chord with me immediately. They represented every well-intentioned person who told me “I don’t have a problem with gay people” with the unspoken mandate “as long as you aren’t one of them.” Instead of making them into villains, you gave their characters depth and humanized them. I realized that homophobia was more complicated that choosing love or hatred. It pushed me to live my life more authentically but also taught me that unsupportive doesn’t necessarily mean abhorrence.

Little did I know that this was only the first time your book would save me in a time of crisis. Fast forward four years, and I had grown into my own identity. My friends and I were planning to go to a Pride festival when the unthinkable happened.

When I first heard about the tragedy that happened in Orlando this past year, I was just waking up. It was a pleasant summer morning until I checked my phone and saw the notifications. The posts “in memory of…” flooded my feed as the body count rose and I realized, shaking, that one of those bodies could have easily been mine. Not logistically—I live miles away from Florida and I’m too young to go clubbing—but for the first time, I was aware that I had something in common with the victims of a hate crime beyond the fact that we were both humans.

My friends and I decided not to go to Pride, for our safety, just in case chance took another life. I curled into my bed for the day, and as I mourned for my community, I reread Boy Meets Boy for the millionth time, but with a whole new set of eyes.

In a world ablaze with terror and hatred, the soft musicality of your words lulled me back into a sense of peace. Paul and Noah’s story represents a kinder future, one where two boys in a small town can fall in love without fear. I yearn for a world where queer love isn’t a struggle but a gift, where “I love you” can be exchanged freely instead of maneuvered through endless obstacles. As a member of the LGBT+ community, most of my role models are martyrs. From Marsha P. Johnson at Stonewall to Hande Kader in 2016, my heroes don’t wear capes; they are clothed in strength and dignity. Equality is their battle cry. As much as I look up to them, it was refreshing to read a “Gay Book” that was just a love story, not a battle. Your book paints a portrait of a loving future of possibility.

Paul and Noah are united in their strong belief in serendipity, “the random pieces coming together in one wonderful moment.” This book is one of those random pieces. This isn’t just a thank you to you, but a message of gratitude to every four leaf clover and blown out birthday candle that led me to Boy Meets Boy.

Thank you,
(all of you)

Sam Kiss