Book Review, David Levithan, Fantasy, Fiction, Gender Identity, LGBT, Sexuality, Young Adult

Every Day by David Levithan

13262783Can you imagine yourself not as a physical being, but as an ethereal entity – a formless consciousness that floats through life from day-to-day, always looking like someone different but always knowing yourself to be the same?

Every day since birth, A wakes up in a different body. Sometimes he wakes up as a boy, sometimes she wakes up as a girl. A has no physical or biological sex, instead needing to adapt to the sex of the host body where s/he resides any particular day. S/he is capable of accessing the memories of the host bodies and can also allow (or not) that host to remember what A experiences on the day of his visit, though s/he usually chooses to block these memories so that the host will not feel as if they have been possessed or invaded. Each night, when A falls asleep in one body, s/he knows that s/he will wake up in the morning as someone entirely different.

A does have a personality, consciousness, and sense of self that is entirely individual, though s/he has no physical form, and A carries this individuality into each new day and every new body. This is the story of 40 days in the life of A – perhaps the most important 40 days that s/he will ever experience. S/he learns that s/he is perhaps not alone in this very unique experience – there may be others out there who are doomed (or blessed?) to exist only in others’ bodies. A also falls in love, for the second time, and must learn how to make a relationship work under such extraordinary circumstances or s/he must choose to make the ultimate sacrifice, for someone else’s happiness.

The two main characters are A and Rhiannon, 16 year olds who are on their own paths to self-discovery and whose encounter with each other will set the trajectories of their lives in new directions. Through A, we also witness, on the surface, the lives of dozens of other teenagers: boys and girls; popular kids and nerds; athletic kids and beautiful ones; kids who are blind, fat, depressed, alcoholic, addicts, or suffering from ADHD. We also get glimpses of their families and friends, though their stories are always in the background as A navigates their lives for one day, in pursuit of his own. The only other recurring characters include two of A’s former hosts, Justin (Rhiannon’s boyfriend and the way A comes to meet her – awkward!) and Nathan, whom A has left, perhaps purposely, with lingering feelings of his “possession” and who ultimately introduces him to Reverend Poole, the man who will change A’s perspective forever. Levithan’s primary characters are interesting individuals, as are the host bodies, all of whom are believable teenagers with varied personalities and circumstances. Viewing the characters through A, who essentially is each of them (including Rhiannon) at one point or another, creates a unique experience for the reader.

journal-011-300x200The structure of the book, too, is interesting, though not entirely unique. It is, in a way, a journal-format. Each small chapter is one day in the life of A and, indeed, the chapter titles correspond to the chronological day (such as Day 6014) in A’s life. This structure, while not entirely original, is absolutely appropriate for the type of story being told and is suitable to A’s narrative style. Levithan’s writing style, too, his prose and language, are appropriate to the age and maturity level of the narrator and also match the oftentimes didactic nature of the story. It is lofty but grounded, well-paced but reflective.

One criticism of the book is that it is at times preachy. This point is well-taken and I do agree with those who find certain elements, such as the narrative arguments for social and sexual equality, not just pointed, but sometimes heavy-handed. Levithan is an issue writer, though, and as another reviewer has aptly mentioned, issue writers are interested in making their point and, in fact, making points is necessary to their purpose. The fact that I agreed with most of the points Levithan was making (gender equality, love of the person not of the sex, etc.), made the story more interesting for me, but I can certainly see how readers who struggle or disagree with such sentiments might find the “lecture” portions of the narrative a bit jarring.

My primary point of contention comes from a particularly disturbing element of the story, which is, I believe, both indicative of the narrator’s personality but also, though I am usually reluctant to make these arguments, of the writer’s bias. Throughout the book, the narrator makes a point of being highly understanding and empathetic. Since s/he has spent his (I will stick with gendered-male pronoun from here on out, as that is ultimately how I perceived the narrator) life living inside of different bodies, it is understandable that he would be a more enlightened individual. He has been male and female, blind, deformed, ugly, and everything in-between. In each case, he makes the argument for empathy and compassion – that we should love ourselves and each other as we are and that each of us suffers from our own demons which might affect the way we treat ourselves and the way we interact with the world. A is able to build his relationship with Rhiannon, another equally enlightened young woman, whether he be in the body of a beautiful black girl, a beefy metal head, or a stringy track jock. The point is well-taken: be yourself, try to show others what is on the inside, and learn to accept others for who they truly are, not just for what they look like.

fat-thinBut then we get near the end of the book and A wakes up in the body of an obese boy. The body weighs 300 pounds and suddenly the tone changes dramatically, for the worse. This chapter, and the next one, is devoted largely not to acceptance or understanding, but to feelings of disgust and anger. It is this body, and only this one, that A is ashamed to show Rhiannon. It is this body that A blames for what it is. Unlike the addicts or depressed teenagers, whom A tries to empathize with and thereby get the reader to think more deeply about, this fat kid gets nothing but criticism – A even tries to “access” the reasons why he might be so fat, but finds only laziness as the cause. Then, after deciding to meet with Rhiannon anyway, it is after this particular meeting that Rhiannon concludes she can no longer engage in this kind of relationship, because she cannot build a relationship with someone who never looks the same. Rhiannon struggles with this all along, but with all of the other bodies, male and female, tall and short, pimpled, hairy, or beautiful, Rhiannon accepts the body. Until the fat, sweaty boy shows up and everything changes. It would be easy to say that this is just a teenage insecurity – that the author is trying to make a statement about the judgmental nature of people and youths; however, throughout the book, both A and Rhiannon, as I have already mentioned, are incredibly enlightened and accepting of all people and situations. Why, then, is this one person so different – so disgusting? Unfortunately, I feel it is a deeper bias coming from the author. He makes a point of making points in this book, as in all of his books. It would be naïve and unfair to think, then, that this, too, is anything other than his making a point: do not be fat. Fat comes from being lazy. There are no psychological or emotional reasons for obesity, it just means you eat too much and do too little. It is outrageous. Not since reading Atlas Shrugged have I been so angered by a particular element of a particular book and it saddens me that this perspective comes from Levithan who is, otherwise, a very positive, compassionate writer.

Ultimately, though, I did love this book. I found the premise incredibly interesting and thought the social/gender politics were expressed in a unique way. The story moves at a great pace, the characters and their stories are fascinating and believable. There is a fantasy element to the story which comes into play late in the book, when Reverend Poole and A finally meet, but the narrative is still grounded firmly in reality. Had it not been for the one bizarrely glaring prejudice mentioned in the paragraph above, I could have easily found this to be a perfect read. As it is, I found it, still, to be a wonderful one. Highly recommended.

Notable Quotes:

“Kindness connects to who you are, while niceness connects to how you want to be seen” (56).

“You shouldn’t have to venture deep down in order to get to love” (72).

“Tomorrow . . . a little less than a promise, and a little more than a chance” (97).

“I see no sin in a kiss. I only see sin in the condemnation” (223).

“Ultimately, the universe doesn’t care about us. Time doesn’t care about us. That’s why we have to care about each other” (320).

Andrew Smith, Austen in August, Blog Post, David Levithan, David Shields, Helene Wecker, J.D. Salinger, Jane Austen, Nancy Sommers, Personal, Shane Salerno, Stephen King, Virginia Woolf, Year In Review

Roof Beam Reader’s Best of 2013

Hello, Readers!

Since I surpassed my 2013 goal of 60 books read (I’m up around 64, right now, with 2 books in progress and likely at least 1 more to go) before year’s end, I thought I would take a cue from some of my favorite bloggers who are posting a “Best of 2013” list.

The list below includes a small selection of categories from which I’ve read this year, with one “favorite” spotlighted for each category.  These are books I’ve read in 2013, not necessarily books that were published in 2013.  I hope you enjoy!

Best Academic Text

15793484From Queer Theory and Feminism, to Linguistics, Rhetoric, and Film Studies, this was a year of heavily theory-based, academic reading, for me.  I read some incredibly interesting texts on the history of sexuality, the French Revolution, bibliographical and textual studies, and the creative writing process.  Of all of these academic texts, though, I think my vote goes to a short little book called Responding to Student Writers, written by Harvard Professor Nancy Sommers, whom I had the honor to meet and work with this summer.  As an English instructor (and, more specifically, a teacher of first year college composition), I found the suggestions, tips, tools, and resources in this booklet to be helpful, as was the CD of student interviews that came with it.  Nancy Sommers is a well-respected expert in the field, and for good reason.  If you are a teacher who often assigns essays/research papers, analyses, etc., then Sommers’ work shouldn’t be missed.

Best Book on Writing / Literary Theory

340793I read a number of books this year which would fall into the category of literary theory and/or “on writing.”  I thought it prudent, then, to mention some of these and to pick a “favorite” amongst a group of rather good texts.  These include, for instance. E.M. Forster’s groundbreaking Aspects of the Novel, Terry Eagleton’s How to Read a Novel, Jim Powell’s graphic guide Postmodernism for Beginners, Judith Mayne’s brilliant collection of essays on feminist film studies, The Woman at the Keyhole, and Anne Lamott’s wonderful Bird by Bird.  Of all the books that fit this category, though, my favorite overall has to be Virginia Woolf’s lecture series, A Room of One’s Own.  Anyone interested in writing, and particularly the historical connection of women and/or socioeconomic status to the process, should definitely check this one out.

Best Contemporary Fiction

13596166I did not read all that much contemporary fiction this year, which is not unusual (I tend to lean towards classics and/or academic texts).  Still, there were enough to be considered and I believe this is a popular category for many of my readers, so I thought I should name a few standouts. First is a wonderful collection of short stories by E.J. Runyon called Claiming One.  Another was the highly controversial but interesting Tampa by Alissa Nutting.   My favorite, though, had to be Stephen King’s Joyland.  Normally, King would probably be the stand-out in the horror/mystery/paranormal genre, and he certainly nailed it with Doctor Sleep, his sequel to The Shining, but Joyland was much more akin to some of his earlier stories, such as “The Body.”  There was some suspense, some magical realism, and a bit of crime-thriller to it, but mostly it was a book about summertime, coming-of-age, and living life. I absolutely loved it.

Best Genre Fiction Book

15819028I read much more genre fiction this year than I did general fiction (other than classics, which will be addressed below), so I am excluding a general fiction category and simply focusing on those books which might be considered fantasy, science fiction, horror, etc.  Of these, I have read a number of works, including The Gunslinger and Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, both of which I highly recommend.  Also,  Inferno by Dan Brown, The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, and The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Although Shirley Jackson’s book came close to taking the title, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by The Golem and the Jinni.  I finished it recently and have not had time, yet, to write & post a review, but it was a stunning piece of work.  There’s something of the old-fashioned Romantic wonder and awe of nature in this one – it is bits and pieces of Mary Shelley and Robert Louis Stevenson fused with contemporary narrative style. Loved it.

Best LGBT Book

17237214This is an important category for me.  As most of you know, I’m currently in my second year of Ph.D. studies in English, but I’m also about to finish my graduate certificate in LGBT studies.  That said, I have not limited this category to works “of literary merit.”  In this category, I considered books on theory, books which would be called “classics,” and also contemporary fiction, young adult, and whatever else. This made it a bit tough, as I had to choose from a range which included Gods and Monsters by Christopher Bram (fantastic), Sexuality in Europe by Dagmar Herzog (fascinating), and Shine by Lauren Myracle (touching).  Others that deserve mention include Sodom on the Thames by Morris Kaplan, and Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz.  It was such a great pleasure to read so many awesome LGBT works of fiction and nonfiction this year.  The ultimate prize, though, has to go to the incredible Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan. This book touched my soul – it is a book that I felt had been missing from the conversation for far too long, and Levithan delivered it to us beautifully.

Best Nonfiction Book

18238043This is probably the largest category that I had to consider this year, with texts ranging from biography and autobiography to cultural studies, gender and sexuality, literary theory and criticism, and so much more.  It almost had to become separate categories, almost. Some of my favorites of the year included How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster, Queer Theory by Annamarie Jagose, Vive la Revolution by Mark Steel, and Colonialism and Homosexuality by Robert Aldrich.  One of the books that I found most helpful, interesting, and readable was Feminism: A Very Short Introduction by Margaret Walters.  When all is said and done, though, my absolute favorite nonfiction read this year was Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno.  If you settled for watching the documentary, then you are missing out on so much.  This biography, unlike others on Salinger, was in-depth, unbiased, well-researched, and revelatory in many ways.  Anyone interested in the life and works of J.D. Salinger should put this at the top of their list.

Best Work of Classic Literature

46133This was my second largest category to consider, and this final call was so difficult!  I love classic literature, so picking one book from such an incredible list of authors, periods, and subjects is almost impossible.  Some of the best of the year include O Pioneers! by Willa Cather, which shouldn’t be missed, Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, which was a difficult but rewarding read, A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams which was stunning, The Adventures of Don Quixote which was hilarious and which I enjoyed far more than I had anticipated. My favorite, though, goes to one of the first books I read this year and one which has stuck with me throughout 2013 – Orlando by Virginia Woolf.  It is poetic justice for Woolf, perhaps, that she has landed on this “best of” list twice, considering I used to vehemently refuse to read her books (I had one bad experience with her many years ago, and swore never to return!).  But Orlando is a stunning, daring epic.  She was disappointed with it (or, more accurately, with the supposed lack of focused attention she paid to it), but it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Best Young Adult Book

11861815Winger by Andrew Smith.  Not only was this the best Young Adult book that I read in 2013, but it was one of the best books I read this year, period.  The competition for this category was stiff, with books by Veronica Roth, Rick Riordan, David Levithan, Benjamin Saenz, Rick Yancey, Cassandra Clare, and Michael Scott to be considered. All of these books were enjoyable and some of them were downright incredible, but Smith’s Winger is a force to be reckoned with.  If you haven’t yet read this book, I would encourage you to read my review and see if it’s for you. Odds are, it is. I also highly recommend his other works, especially Stick, and I look forward to his next publication, Grasshopper Jungle, which is due out early in 2014.

Other Favorite Things

My favorite post of the year: On Horrors and Heroes

My favorite event of the year: Austen In August

My favorite review of the year: Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

One blogger I couldn’t get enough of this year:  O of Behold the Stars

So, those were my favorites of 2013.  I am currently reading Ulysses by James Joyce and On What Grounds (Coffeehouse Mysteries #1) by Cleo Coyle, both of which I’m enjoying, for different reasons.  I plan to read one more this year – so that’s a possible three books I could add to this list of “favorites,” but let’s just leave them here as honorable year-end mentions, shall we?

What were YOUR favorite books this year?

Book Review, Coming-of-Age, David Levithan, Depression, Family, Favorites, Fiction, Gay Lit, Gender Identity, GLBT, Homophobia, Homosexuality, LGBT, Relationships, Transgender, Young Adult

Thoughts: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

17237214Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 4.0
YTD:  51

When you look at the cover for Two Boys Kissing, you get a pretty good idea of what this book will be about.  Then you read the synopsis on the inside cover and your idea becomes a bit more defined, a bit clearer.  Finally, you sit down to read the book, only to discover that your first impressions were of the vaguest kind.  In Two Boys Kissing, David Levithan brings back the literary chorus of old.  The narrative guides of Shakespeare and Ovid at long last reappear, this time through the collective voice of our “ancient” gay predecessors.  These are the men and women who bravely pioneered the social frontier, the rainbow-clad Lewis & Clark who pressed love onward – quietly or with booming voice- and who were lost to one of the greatest tragedies of our day, the AIDS epidemic.

As our guide, this chorus reveals to us a day in the life of multiple contemporary gay youths, in many iterations of the “type.”  The main couple, Craig and Harry, are the two boys kissing, but they are not a couple at all (although they used to be).  Their goal is to stand up for equality by breaking the world’s record for longest kiss – hoping that the process and the end result of two boys’ names together in a permanent book of world record will get people thinking, if not change the world entirely. They are also standing up for their friend, who was violently and viciously beaten for being gay.

In addition to their primary story, the chorus also gives us a peek into the worlds of Peter and Neil, a young couple who are learning what that word, “couple,” means; learning how to navigate life for themselves and for each other, including, most importantly, how to understand and respond to one another, sometimes without words.   We also meet Avery and Ryan, both of whom have their demons, past and present, and who must confront the idea of what it means to be different, even within the same “gay world.”

Finally, we see Cooper, the boy who no one sees and who refuses to be seen.  Cooper’s story is where the chorus truly rallies – where these spirit guides are needed most, lest we forget that where we came from and where we are going are inextricably linked.  Technology advances, and these advancements change our perspectives and our possibilities, but for boys like Cooper, the loneliness and isolation only grow deeper, more vacuous.

Two Boys Kissing is the gay anthem for our day.  It is the very book created from the very inspirations that many of us have been waiting to read for a long, long time.  Levithan pulls stories from the real world and links them to our present and our past.  He does this through the eyes of a compassionate yet devastatingly helpless and sometimes forgotten chorus of our forbearers. Levithan, since the publication of his wonderful short novel Boy Meets Boy ten years ago, has veered from the idyllic and romantic, to the daring and experimental (Every You, Every Me), and the exploratory (Every Day), right into the real, the raw, and the historical.  He keeps getting better, and Two Boys Kissing is a triumph indeed.

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: YA+
Interest: LGBT, Transgender, Relationships, First Loves, Coming-of-Age, Interconnected Plots, Family, Depression, Hate Crimes.

Notable Quotes:

“We thought of magic as something that existed with or without us. But that’s not true. Things are not magical because they’ve been conjured for us by some outside force. They are magical because we create them.”

“You spend so much time, so much effort, trying to hold yourself together. And then everything falls apart anyway.”

“It is hard to stop seeing your son as a son and to start seeing him as a human being. It is hard to stop seeing your parents as parents and to start seeing them as human beings. It’s a two-sided transition, and very few people manage it gracefully.”

“What strange creatures we are, to find silence peaceful, when permanent silence is the thing we most dread. Nighttime is not that. Nighttime still rustles, still creaks and whispers and trembles in its throat.  It is not darkness we fear, but our own helplessness within it.”

“Our bodies don’t have to be touching to be connected to one another. Our heart races without contact. Our breath holds until the threat is gone.”

“You grow. Your life widens. And you can’t expect your partner’s love alone to fill you. There will always be space for other things.”

“Here we are, thousands of us, shouting no, shouting at him to stop, crying out and making a net of our bodies, trying to come between him and the water.”

“There is the sudden. There is the eventual. And in between, there is the living.”

Book Review, Coming-of-Age, David Levithan, Drugs, Family, Fiction, Friendship, Gay Lit, GLBT, Sexuality, Young Adult

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.”

Book Review, Coming-of-Age, David Levithan, Death, Depression, Fiction, Psychology, Young Adult

Review: Every You, Every Me by David Levithan

Every You, Every Me by David Levithan

Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0

YTD: 48


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

I can say it now: I hate David Levithan, unequivocally.  Why do I hate him?  Because he continues to write every book I would have written, had I the talent, stamina, or patience to actually become a writer.  First, there was Boy Meets Boy, a beautiful high school romance between two teenage boys, delivered in the most natural way I have ever seen.  Then, there was Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which he co-wrote with John Green and which was, let’s face it, a match made in heaven.  Most recently, he released The Lover’s Dictionary, which is one of the most interesting and relevant re-imaginings of the adult love story in current fiction.  So, alright, I actually love David Levithan.  With his latest, Every You, Every Me, David Levithan again cooperates with another artist, this time a photographer named Jonathan Farmer.  The main character, Evan, recently lost a friend – the one friend he wished could have been much more than a friend.  He and Ariel’s (that’s “the one”) boyfriend, Jack, are struggling in their own ways to deal with their grief and feelings of responsibility about what happened to Ariel.  Suddenly, as Ariel’s birthday approaches, Evan –and Jack- start to receive random, cryptic photographs in places which remind them of Ariel.  Some of the photos even have Ariel in them.  As the torture continues, Evan struggles to fight the madness and find the person responsible for leaving these photos – but who is it?  Could Ariel herself be somehow haunting them?  Is it a mysterious stranger with a grudge brought to bear?  Or, could Evan himself have truly snapped and not even know it?  Thrilling, poignant, and surprising – David Levithan has definitely done it again.


3 – Characters well-developed.

As is the case with most of Levithan’s work, the book is rather sparsely written.  That is to say, the story tells itself, in a way, and is much more the focal point than its characters are.  For this reason, the characters do not get as much growth, development, or characterization as one might hope.  Still, the various personalities – particular of Evan and Jack, but also of some of the minor characters- are clearly written so that each character is identifiable as him or herself.  What is most impressive in this regard, though, is the characterization of Ariel, the dangerously disturbed girl who Jack and Evan are pining over, and who is long-gone before the story even begins.  To develop a character that is so crucial to the story, yet not technically a presence in it, takes a certain amount of craft – and Levithan has it.


4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

What I am often most impressed with is Levithan’s story-telling ability.  His prose is sparse but engaging – not lofty in the least, but also not quite conversational.  There is an interesting balance between these two extremes which Levithan always manages to scale delicately, and Every You, Every Me is no exception. The interposing of images at crucial moments of the story, coupled with the “chapter parts” and the varying lengths (sometimes a chapter part is one or two sentences, other times it is a few pages) adds an interesting complexity and novelty to the structure.  There is also quite a lot of strikethrough in the prose, as if the narrator, Evan, is arguing with himself as the story progresses – fighting certain memories, battling certain emotions.  At first, the strikethrough was a bit irritating, because I wasn’t quite sure whether I should skip or scan through that and read just the open prose, or if the strikethrough itself was really part of the storytelling.  This is a determination each reader will have to make on his own, as it works either way; for me, it felt most appropriate to read every word because the struggle for the character, being mirrored in the prose was ultimately moving and important.

Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.

4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

To live or to die.  That is a decision every person makes every day, though hardly any of us think about it.  Still, the choice is ours, really – we wake up each day and we decide, consciously or subconsciously, whether or not to continue living.  This is a very personal, private thing, and for most, not really a consideration at all.  So, what if someone else forced that decision – of whether they would continue to live or not- on you?  What if they put you in command of their survival?  Could you let someone –a best friend, a girlfriend- die, if they really wanted to die?  Would you force them to get psychiatric help against their will if it meant they would live – but live hating you forever?  This is the nature of Every You, Every Me.  The title is taken from a moment in the book when Ariel is telling Evan that all of us have multiple personalities, in a way.  We don’t ever show 100% of ourselves to anyone else and, likewise, we never see that 100% in another.  Sometimes, we can’t even admit all of the truths about ourselves to ourselves.  What is so wonderful about each of Levithan’s books is that they say something, and usually it is something few others know how to say or how to admit.  Every You, Every Me is a story about love and friendship, yes, but more importantly it is about struggles with depression, social anxiety, psychotic breaks, and decisions none of us should ever have to make.  It is about how to survive and move on, when all is said and done. 

Suggested Reading for:

Age Level: YA/High School+

Interest: Friendship, Coming-of-Age, Loss, Psychology, Manic/Polar Psychosis, Suicide, Recovery.

Book Review, David Levithan, Fiction

Review: The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

Final Verdict: 3.5 out of 4.0

YTD: 38


3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.

It is hard to decide just what to say about David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary, other than it is a unique, delightful, and educational little book about love.  Having read two of Levithan’s Young Adult books, I was curious to see just what he could do with adult fiction.  Fortunately, I was far from disappointed.  The book itself is about two people (Two men?  Two women? A man and woman?) who meet, date, and fall in love.  Along the way, there are the ups-and-downs of life – romance & humor, loss & betrayal.  The narrator uses the letters of the alphabet, one at a time, to place a single word with a single moment in time, and then describes that word and that moment – and what it means for the relationship. 


4 – Characters extraordinarily developed

What is such an achievement for this sparsely worded book (some pages have just a few words on them, while others are filled-up) is that, though we never learn who exactly these two people are (no names are given) and though their story is unraveled quite literally in segments – one word plus its definition at a time- the characters somehow manage to grow and to connect with the reader.  Their story, too, reaches through the page and allows anyone familiar with romantic relationships (be that one relationship, or twenty) to see something of themselves and their own experiences in it.   This couple, like any couple, struggles with some very real issues – substance abuse and adultery being primary.  And, like any couple, they struggle to deal with and overcome the problems.


4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

What is fascinating and unique about this story is that, being written in definitions, it at times feels as if the reader is one or another of the characters.  Levithan has written an autobiography of human emotion – we laugh, we cry.  We’re encouraged and disappointed.  We struggle with when to fight, and when to give up.  Being so sparsely written, one can fly through this book in hardly no time at all, but the story still manages to be so engaging, that I found myself slowing down – savoring certain passages, certain words.  I dog-eared more pages in this book than in any since War and Peace, and considering this book is about 1/10th the size of Tolstoy’s classic, that is saying something!  Levithan is a natural storyteller; his language and style draw the reader in and refuse to let him go – not while the story is in progress, and not even after it’s long over.

Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.

3 – Additional elements are present and cohesive to the Story.

The style and format of the book is in itself an interesting element, one which works well with this particular love story and one which I could see being referenced or duplicated in the future (though hardly, I imagine, with as much success).  I also quite enjoyed the fact that it is not truly clear whether this is a straight relationship or a gay one – a male narrator or a female one.  Typically, ambiguity like this would be annoying and distracting, and it would bar the reader from really connecting with the story or its characters; however, in this case, it only adds to the overall theme of the story – which is a universal exploration of love in general. 

Suggested Reading for:

Age Level:  Adult

Interest:  Relationships, Romance (realistic), Love, Dating, Linguaphilia, Definitions

 Notable Quotes:

“abstraction, n.

Love is one kind of abstraction. And then there are those nights when I sleep alone, when I curl into a pillow that isn’t you, when I hear the tiptoe sounds that aren’t yours. It’s not as if I can conjure you up completely. I must embrace the idea of you instead.”

“’It was a mistake,’ you said. But the cruel thing was, it felt like the mistake was mine, for trusting you.”

“Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough.”

“I want my own books to have their own shelves,” you said, and that’s how I knew it would be okay to live together.”

Book Review, Coming-of-Age, David Levithan, Fiction, Gay Lit, GLBT Challenge, John Green, Young Adult

Review: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
Final Verdict: 4.0 out of 4.0
YTD: 57
4 – Plot/Story is interesting/believable and impactful

When I heard that John Green and David Levithan were teaming up to write a novel about the life and times of a manic-depressive gay teenager, I was understandably stoked.  The authors of Looking for Alaska and Boy Meets Boy working together?  Brilliant!  What they achieved, though, is more than even I, an admitted fan of both writers, could have imagined.  There are two Will Graysons – well, in fact, there are many Will Graysons, but there are two Will Graysons with whom this book concerns itself.  The first is a straight, socially awkward and girl-shy sidekick to one Evanston, IL (i.e. Chicago) school’s biggest (literally) gay student; the other is a semi-psychotic, tortured, poor gay loner from Naperville, IL – a suburb just about an hour outside the city.  Somehow, these two boys with the same name meet unexpectedly and hilariously in a Chicago porn shop called “Frenchy’s” – neither of them planned to be there, and both were too young to get in.  Still, cosmic fate being what it is, these two Will Graysons were brought together and changed by one big, giant, glamorous and fabulous gay boy named, ironically, “Tiny.”  Tiny falls in love with nearly every boy he meets – and his life’s ambition is to write a musical about … wait for it… his life!  The musical evolves, though, through Tiny’s struggles with Will Grayson 1 (the best friend whose friendship suddenly starts to strain) and Will Grayson 2 (the love interest who is no good for Tiny, but who impacts Tiny more profoundly than anyone else ever has). 

4 – Characters extraordinarily developed.

I absolutely fell in love with the characters in this book, as I did in both books by these authors, read previously.  Each Will Grayson is distinct and identifiable, and not just because the prose is different, nor because each Will Grayson is written by one of the authors (thereby resulting in a separate voice).  They are distinguishable because their stories and histories are different; their attitudes and outlooks are different; they grow in different ways, interact with others in different styles; they learn different lessons, and show their appreciation for Tiny and their friendships and new relationships (Will 1 with Jane and Will 2 with Gideon) in singular ways.  Also, though they are both “loner” types, the Will Graysons interact with their few friends and with their parents in dissimilar ways as well.  Tiny, too, is brilliant – loveable and annoying at the same time.  He (and Will 2) instantly reminded me of people in my own past – people I can recall with both fond memories and some not so pleasant ones.  The ability to recall one’s past through a story – that “reaching out and taking a hand” which Alan Bennett writes of in his play, The History Boys, makes the book and its characters so easy to relate to and to be drawn in by.  Even the minor characters, such as Jane and Gideon, the musical’s cast members, the parents, and some of the teachers are all conducive to the plot in some way, without ever feeling unnecessary, over-the-top, or unrealistic.  Will 2’s relationship with “Isaac” and its ultimate conclusion is also fascinating and terrifying. 

4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

Another of the great positives for this book is that it is written by two authors (normally not something I enjoy) who each take on the job of writing one of the Will Grayson characters.  David Levithan writes the gay, depressed Will (2) and John Green writes the coming-to-terms-with-growing-up straight Will (1), who ultimately learns not to succumb to his life rule #2 of “Shut Up.”  That each character was written by a separate author allowed the two to really grow and develop singularly and independently, yet in relation to the story as a whole.  Their meeting and link through Tiny is what holds their two worlds together, and which creates a cogent and highly readable storyline.  I adored, as well, the inclusions of notes, poetry, and song – at times, I could truly imagine this book taking place on stage, characters as cast members, breaking into comic musical numbers about the dangers of being a gay tight end on the high school football team!  What this means is the story, though written in prose, is highly visual and aural, so it literally comes to life in your imagination.  I could picture these characters, I could hear their songs, I could imagine the sounds of their voices.  The mastery of prose – though relatively simple (YA reading level), allows even a discriminate, adult reader to feel accomplished in reading the book.

Additional Elements:
4 – Additional elements improve and advance the story.

The final result of the musical, and the book, is that each of these three main characters – Tiny, Will Grayson, and Will Grayson, all come to terms with who they really are and, equally important, with what they mean to one another.  You can love a friend as a friend.  You can remain friends with an ex.  You can appreciate another person without having to put your heart and soul into your relationship with that person – but the point is, ultimately, that you have to be honest.  You have to open that metaphorical box and let Schrodinger’s cat loose – or you will never know if the friendships are alive or dead, they will just remain meaninglessly mundane and inconsequential, forever.  There is also much to be said, in context, about gay rights and the “live and let live mentality.”  The importance of forgiveness, too, rears its head – it is forgiveness which allows the gay Will Grayson (Will Grayson 2) to let go of some of his pain and anger, to allow himself real friendships with decent people, and to do something good for someone else.  Love. Friendship. Acceptance. Forgiveness.  This is Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Young Adult, Adult
Interest: GLBT, Gay Lit, Coming-of-Age, YA, Theater/Drama, Depression, Family, Friendship

Notable Quote:

“When things break, it’s not the actual breaking that prevents them from getting back together again.  It’s because a little piece gets lost – the two remaining ends couldn’t fit together even if they wanted to.  The whole shape has changed.” (P. 174)