Review: The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan


The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan

Final Verdict: 3.25 out of 4.0

YTD: 09

4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful (socially, academically, etc.)

“There’s the girl who is in love with Holden Caufield.  The boy who wants to be strong who falls for the girl who’s convinced she needs to be weak.  The girl who writes love songs for a girl she can’t have.  The two boys teetering on the brink of their first anniversary.  And everyone in between.” This is The Realm of Possibility, as described by the Knopf paperback edition’s book blurb.  “One school. Twenty voices.  Endless possibilities.”  At the core of this collection are the separate but equal themes of independence and necessity.  As we grow up, as we create our own identities, we must learn the balancing act of individuality and belonging.  We must learn how to be strong and capable, but we also must learn how to be pliable and vulnerable.  The twenty interconnected stories in The Realm of Possibility explore all the different aspects of growing up and coming of age – from dealing with a loved one’s illness, to committing to a serious relationship; from learning what it really means to be strong, to allowing one’s walls to come down – taking a chance at loss, in order to gain.  For this group of teenagers, life has just begun – and the possibilities are endless.  

2 – Characters slightly developed.

The structure of this work automatically places characterization at a disadvantage.  Because the book is made up of twenty short segments, written by twenty different narrators, there is not much room for growth or development of any single character.  There are a few reoccurring characters (those who write one segment and who are then included as a main character in someone else’s segment), but, because the sections are written like diary entries, each portion still says more about its narrator than about anyone else, which means there are only 10 or so pages for each of the twenty important people. This is a difficult for me, personally, because I am a reader who truly enjoys rich, deep, whole characters.  That being said, the characters and their stories work together very well and, despite being flashed at the reader in short bursts, they are certainly interesting and emanate all the emotions that Levithan intended them to: fear, courage, love, abandon, despair.  While I cannot applaud the characterization in this book (simply because it was not a main element) – I can adamantly suggest that the lack of character development in this book was no disservice to it, because the rest of the elements – particularly the exploration of individuality and “possibilities”- are the core of this book and hold everything together quite nicely.  

3 – Satisfactory Prose/Style, conducive to the Story.

The stories are written in free verse of various forms and the prose, in this way, adds a certain element of characterization which is generally lacking (as mentioned above), because each narrator has his or her own physical and emotional voice – distinguishable from the other stories in the timeline. One item I take issue with is the many instances of whole pages left nearly blank, with just a few words or sentences.  This is something I have come to expect from young adult novels of a certain type (and from certain authors).  At first, it was charming, but the more often I encounter it, the more it starts to feel like a clever ploy to make extremely short books lengthier by page number, if not by word count.  This does not mean that the stories which are structured in this way are ineffective (far from it, in most instances), but it does sometimes leave me wanting more.  In this book, where the stories are so interesting and the language so engaging, it was frustrating to oftentimes have so little to revel in.  Other than that minor irk,  Levithan captured me with his prose and language the way he always does: completely.  His narrative voice(s) are so pure, so believable, and so welcoming – it is impossible not to sink into these stories and enjoy yourself, simply because the language is just so comfortable.  Most of us have been in these situations, or ones similar to them – and whether the reader is still in high school, just out of it, or finding high school a distant memory- the language coupled with the messages and the familiar feelings drawn from each story, will ring bells for nearly everyone. 

Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements are present and enhance the Story.

The Realm of Possibility is a sort of short story collection whose overall narrative revolves around a group of students from the same high school.  Some of the stories are directly interconnected, while others are only slightly related.  It is similar in structure to Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, in that all of the stories are connected because their primary characters exist in the same place and time, often with overlapping elements throughout the larger work.  Setting up the narrative this way allows Levithan to explore twenty different personalities existing (and co-existing) at the same time, but with very different circumstances, situations, and messages. The two strongest segments, in my opinion, are “Escapade” and “Possibility” – which are, incidentally, the last two stories in the collection.  These two drive home the message of friendship and future –the messages of hope and individuality that have been developing throughout the entire book.  Ultimately, reading this book was a delight.  It is a quick, simple read, but one which evokes real emotions and memories because the various situations described are so relatable and the people so believable.  Although the characterization section of my review brings the overall rating down, the book feels much more, as a whole, like a “4” than a “3.”        

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: MG, YA+
Interest: High School, Coming-of-Age, Interpersonal Relationships, Family, Mental/Physical Health and Coping, Sexuality (Heterosexual & Homosexual).

Notable Quotes:

“There is certainty in a ring.  The non-ending, the non-beginning.  The ongoing.  The way it holds on to you not because it’s been fastened or stretched or adhered.  It holds on because it fits.”

“…the things that hold us are only as strong as the faith we have in them – you go on the bridge because you trust it will not fall.” pp

“My parents are okay with me being gay but they would kill me if they saw me with a cigarette.”

“Getting what you want is just as difficult as not getting what you want. Because then you have to figure out what to do with it instead of figuring out what to do without it.”

“You will always be my always.”

3 Comments on “Review: The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan

  1. Usually I don’t tend to gravitate towards the YA genre at all, but I received this book from a friend and she told me I might like it. I admit I was more than skeptical at first, so it was kind of surprising how I ended up really loving it. Then again, I’m also a huge fan of books like Winesburg, Ohio and the idea of interconnected short stories surrounding some kind of community. From what I remember (I don’t have the book with me anymore so I can’t check), I ended up liking the very first story/poem the best. I just really liked that character a lot and his particular writing style. Of course, since it is a collection, it also felt uneven (especially in this case because of the way they’re all written so differently, and yeah, some of the stories are way too short and kind of gimmicky) and you’ll naturally feel more affinity towards some stories over others. But I thought it did a good job trying to capture a particular multitude of voices in a particular time of their lives. It would probably be one of the first books I’d recommend to teenagers.


  2. I’m not a YA frequent reader, either, but it does seem like there’s a sudden increase in YA books that seem interesting (to me). Not necessarily the paranormal ones, but the ones about becoming. I’ve been wanting to read this writer’s previous novel, but I’ve been on such a backlog of books, I haven’t been to the bookstore in a long while.


  3. Pingback: The Busy Bibliophile - young adult book reviews for grown-ups

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