It is an interesting piece of fiction about being young and queer. The author has captured a voice rarely heard.
Reviewed by Mechele R. Dillard for TeensReadToo.com
Andy knows he is gay, but he cannot admit it, lest he condemn himself to life as a "faggot," making life at his Catholic school unbearable. "Please, God," he begs, "don't make me be a faggot. Fix me" (p. 20).
Babcock follows the trials and tribulations of three young gay boys--Andy, James, and Mark--as seen through the eyes of Andy. The confusion that the boys feel, the pressure to conform, and the fear of being labeled a "faggot" for life, all of these extremely valid points of understanding are tackled by Babcock. And, as an added plus, the prejudice against homosexuals is confronted. When Andy is sent to the principal's office for calling James a "faggot," Mr. Preston informs him that "it's not a very nice word for homosexuals, and I refuse to tolerate it being used in this school. It's the same as using a racist slur" (p. 70). Later, when the kids are gathered for sex education and are allowed to pose questions anonymously, someone asks, "Is it a sin to be gay?" (p. 97). Mr. Preston is once again the voice of authority in the matter, answering, "It's not a sin to be gay. People are most likely born that way. They shouldn't be punished for it, even if we happen to disagree with their lifestyle" (p. 97). So, tolerance for diversity is preached. But Mr. Preston also illustrates the absurdity of many people's reasoning when he continues: "However, it is a sin to have sex with another man, because sex is a holy union permitted only within the confines of marriage between a man and a woman" (p. 97). Babcock confronts each of these important issues skillfully.
The problem I encountered while reading this book was not in the content, but with the ages of the kids involved. When the story begins, Andy is an eleven-year-old--old enough, yes, to be curious and questioning, but the reader cannot help but ask: Is eleven old enough for sex? One minute, Babcock writes about the boys giving each other's genitals a "tongue twisty" (p. 39) and the next minute the kids are attending their first boy-girl party. Yes, of course, the author intends to illustrate the irony of the parents' naivete when James's mom and dad declare him too young for such parties, but the fact of the matter is, eleven years old is just too young for, "All I could see was Mark's white briefs as he straddled James" (p. 134) and "A good frame, raw talent--Mark was really turning me on" (p. 74).
If the characters in this book were just a bit older--at least thirteen--I could have sank into the story and not questioned it a bit; everything would have came together seamlessly. But these characters are just beginning middle school, and are having all-out sexual experiences before they even receive their first kiss. The extreme youth of the characters, ultimately, detracts from Babcock's otherwise interesting and powerful message.
Overall, Babcock makes an important statement with THE BOYS AND THE BEES, as far as ideas regarding homosexuality and the treatment of homosexuals within today's society are concerned and, for this reason, I have given the book four stars. However, I strongly suggest that this is a book for older readers; ironically, the sexual content of THE BOYS AND THE BEES is entirely too strong for kids Andy's age.