Book Review: “Boy Like Me” by Simon James Green

In 1994, when Boy Like Me is set, I turned 6. And it’s absolutely astonishing to think many people my age grew up not realising how damning and damaging Section 28 was. That during our early primary school years, homophobic rhetoric was still so prevalent and continued to be until 2003 when it was finally repealed in England and Wales. But even after that, the banning of LGBTQ books and other material as well as the teaching of such issues still had a knock-on effect on what we knew and could access.

Boy Like Me is leading queer YA and Early Years stories author Simon James Green’s latest and most personal story to date. One that he tells his readers at the beginning is very much a true story in many ways. In my review of his previous book Gay Club!, I lauded it as “perhaps his best yet in my opinion”. But now I’ve read Boy Like Me, it’s his second best.

Jamie Hampton (Simon) is a Sixth Former at a school somewhere in Lincolnshire who considers himself somewhere in the middle when it comes to school status. He leads the committee organising an end of term ball along with the most popular girl in school and her boyfriend. However, he is someone who hasn’t quite come to realise who he is, is constantly picked on by a couple of school bullies for “dressing gay”, which prompts him to try and change his style, and things get awkward when he is constantly being asked by everyone who he’ll bring to the ball. But thanks to the extremely kind and helpful school librarian, who gives him a booked called “Wildflowers of Great Britain”, his world gets turned upside down… or is it turned the right way up?

Because of course “Wildflowers of Great Britain” harbours a secret inside – a story of two boys. And scribblings inside from previous pupils who have checked it out, kickstarting Jamie and his mystery pen pal to write notes back and forth to each other. But will they find out who they are? Will they be caught? What will happen? Well it goes without saying that you should definitely read the book for yourself to find out. As with many of Simon’s stories, there are twists and turns at almost every other chapter because naturally, gay love is never easy, especially during the 90s when you’re in school and the law on Section 28 is followed to the letter and teachers literally couldn’t care less when it came to anti-gay bullying. Boy Like Me keeps you guessing and keeps you hooked throughout – I stayed up past 1am two nights in a row because of it – and doesn’t disappoint when it comes to both the beautiful and euphoric ups and shocking and depressing downs.

Gay Club! was Simon‘s first major foray into a politically charged story, but Boy Like Me is a full-on “fuck the system” novel that exposes the truth and lies of Section 28 and its effects on LGBTQ youth and adults of the day that as I said, people like me were blissfully unaware of what really happened. Jam-packed with nostalgic retro pop culture references and fun facts about what everyday life was back then, from ash trays in McDonald’s to the novelty of the first mobile phones, Boy Like Me isn’t just an emotional rollercoaster and eye-opener but a truly enjoyable read that gives you hope about those who were brave enough to stand up and stand their ground to fight back against the world that was against them.

For those of you who are fans of Simon James Green’s works or any queer Young Adult novels, as well as It’s A Sin (quite similar but not quite as heart wrenching) and Heartstopper (again similar but perhaps had less relatable realities about what it’s like to be LGBTQ at school), Boy Like Me is for everyone who grew up during Section 28 and wants a story that might accurately reflect their experiences, or for young people of today who want and should learn more about those times. Fittingly released just after LGBT+ History Month, if there’s one book you should read that is fiction but not fiction and based on fact, make it Boy Like Me. Now, we await the TV adaptation that SJG not very subtly hinted at wanting because that be would amazing!

Also, get it from LGBTQ bookstores, not Amazon or Waterstones! (Okay, says me who got it on my Kindle, but is purchasing it for someone else.)

Rating: 5/5

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