Jan Mark reviews tales about teenage boys and their journeys to adulthood
Boy Meets Boy
By David Levithan HarperCollins pound;10.99
Daniel Half Human
By David Chotjewitz Simon Schuster pound;5.99
By Kate Morgenroth Simon Schuster pound;5.99
By Keith Gray Bodley Head pound;10.99
Paul meets Noah at the bookstore and falls instantly in love. As he explains on the first page, there is no gay or straight scene in his town.
"They all got mixed up a while back, which I think is for the best." Paul's town is not like other small American towns. When the Boy Scouts of America announced that homosexuals were unfit to join them, the local troop renamed itself the Joy Scouts and carried on regardless. Straights are welcome in the Queer Beer Bar; the high school's cheerleaders are stunt bikers on Harleys, and quarterback Infinite Darlene (nee Daryl Heisenburg) has the longest fingernails in gridiron. Does she have problems? Only when simultaneously combining the roles of football captain and homecoming queen.
Even in this relaxed atmosphere, a teenager in love still faces the perennial hazards of being young and unsure; sexual orientation has nothing to do with it, and nor has sex, really. Noah is special, but the affection that Paul and his friends feel for each other is uncomplicated and all-encompassing. They can even sympathise with the ultra-religious parents who honestly fear for their son's immortal soul, and treat them with the same kindness they extend to one another. Interestingly, tolerance is a word that never appears. Everyone here has progressed beyond needing tolerance and everyone else should be immoderately cheered up by reading David Levithan's joyous, celebratory, clever, funny romance.
Daniel Kraushaar, an ordinary Hamburg schoolboy, sees his world begin to crumble on the day he discovers that according to Nazi racial "science" he is only half human. The other half is Jewish, a fact that his secularised, non-observant mother has never considered worth mentioning.
First encountered at age 13, with his friend Armin, enthusiastically daubing swastikas on walls and longing to join the Hitler Jugend, like the rest of his class, he watches society disintegrate around him while family members are interned, his education is threatened and his Aryan father loses his job for staying with his wife.
He and Armin, now rising through the ranks of the Hitler Jugend, manage to keep their friendship intact until Kristallnacht, but after that the Kraushaars lose all definition as individuals, subsumed into the desperate millions of European Jewry.
They escape to America and, in 1945, Daniel returns as an interpreter seconded to the British Army. It is on the cards that he and Armin will meet again and the circumstances can be predicted, but not the outcome of David Chotjewitz's grim, unsensational and compelling novel.
In Framed, Jude's violent drug-dealing father is shot dead at his kitchen table having mixed a little too much baby powder with the heroin. For some reason, the killer spares the life of this only witness and, although the police detect discrepancies in Jude's account of the slaying, he is released into the care of the mother he believed dead, who turns out to be a district attorney with her sights set on political office.
The meaning of the title becomes clear when Jude agrees to take the rap for a crime he did not commit, to avoid jeopardising Mom's career prospects, and then finds he has been set up by the people he trusted. Not a thriller, but a long dark journey through betrayal, revenge and redemption - and the peculiarities of the American legal system.
The Fearful are those who believe, and they are a minority. Three hundred years previously, William Milmullen saw five children devoured by a monster that rose from the local lake. He took upon himself the responsibility of propitiating the beast by regularly feeding it - a task passed from father to son down to the present.
A week shy of his 16th birthday, when he becomes "The Mourner" in his father's place, Tim Milmullen has to face not only the hostility and contempt of those who claim that William's account was a paedophile's cover story, but the fact that he himself does not believe in the monster.
Then a jet-skier drowns, the body is never recovered and a survey of the lake is planned. If no monster is found, Tim's doubts will be vindicated, but what will this do to his father, a dedicated believer? The monster, mythical or not, is a MacGuffin. This is a complex, interesting story about faith.