This is a book about standing up, being visible, and forcing the world to accept who you are on your own terms. One minute, I would want to stand up aThis is a book about standing up, being visible, and forcing the world to accept who you are on your own terms. One minute, I would want to stand up and cheer. The next, I would want to sit down and cry. Sometimes I wanted to do both at the same time. I lost track of the number of times I teared up.
David Levithan is in rare form here. The heart-rending choice of narrative device, and the poetical language weave together the stories of the couples and individuals who are all at different places on the road of acceptance and love, showing them almost as a series of snapshots, seen from the outside, by a lost generation.
You may find yourself, as I did, caught up in the action of Harry and Craig's marathon kiss, trying to read this book in one sitting, without stopping for food or bathroom breaks, wanting to stick by them out of solidarity, and not stopping until they do. I was left wanting to know more about the characters, and what would happen to them next, but I think that would be true if the book had been 500 or 1000 pages.
This is an amazing story, and so relevant to our times....more
There's no cohesive plot here, so I would hesitate to recommend this to someone who has not already read and enjoyed "Every Day". It's just some littlThere's no cohesive plot here, so I would hesitate to recommend this to someone who has not already read and enjoyed "Every Day". It's just some little vignettes from earlier points in A's unusual life, which provide a bit more insight into the formation of the character.
The only part that was a little jarring for me was that the wording of the thoughts of a much younger A were as vocabulariffic as teenage-A's. I would have expected things to be expressed more simply in a first-person present-tense narrative....more
Meet A. A has no race, no class, no gender, no name apart from the letter ze has assigned hirself. Also no family, friends, possessions, or plans forMeet A. A has no race, no class, no gender, no name apart from the letter ze has assigned hirself. Also no family, friends, possessions, or plans for the future. Ze can't. Because every day A wakes up in a different body, in a different life. There are rules regarding how this works -- A is always someone of the same age as hirself, is constrained to a limited geographical area, and can access the memories of the body ze is possessing, but not the person's feelings or consciousness -- and there are the rules A has made for hirself: don't harm anyone, and don't disrupt the borrowed life more than ze can help.
All of this changes on the day that A inhabits a boy named Justin, and meets Justin's girlfriend Rhiannon. Then it all begins to fall apart, because A is falling in love. Ze starts bending hir rules -- just a little at first -- and things begin to spin out of control.
The genius of this novel lies more in the concept than in the execution. A giant "WHAT IF?" is asked of the reader which a novel of this length can barely begin to scratch the surface of answering. It raises questions about identity, and about how much agency one has a right to when one can only ever be a guest in the body of another, and has no independent existence to call one's own. In some ways, A's life is very free. Ze almost never has to face consequences for hir actions, and ze gets to see first-hand a very broad range of human experiences. One day, A might be on the high school football team, the next day, an underage, undocumented housekeeper, or a drug addict desperate for the next fix.
There were some elements of the romance between A and Rhiannon that I found problematic. A is somewhat pushy, coming close to demanding that Rhiannon make room for hir in her life, and all the uncertainty that comes along with that. It's a lot to ask of anyone. While I don't necessarily agree with the way A handles things all the time, I feel nothing but sympathy for the desperation A experiences. With no possibility of sustained relationships or anything else to call one's own, who wouldn't be hungry to forge a connection with another person?
The twist that came at the end was surprising. I thought I knew what was going to happen, but my expectations were turned upside down. The ending itself was rather abrupt. I was left wanting more. I hope Levithan intends to write a sequel. There is still so much to explore here and so many more questions to ask....more
This book was a gag gift from my roommate, but it looked amusing and wasn't very long, so I thought I'd give it a go. In spite of the title, it contaiThis book was a gag gift from my roommate, but it looked amusing and wasn't very long, so I thought I'd give it a go. In spite of the title, it contains more practical advice and less goofy humour than one might expect. If I were actually a lesbian, I'd probably have given it a better rating. Aside from my being obviously not the target audience, the book's main problem is that it is very dated. It was published in 1996, when the internet was still in its infancy, and gay marriage seemed like an impossible dream. There are more than a few in-jokes and pop-culture references that went right over my head. But if I were a lesbian living in the mid-90's, this book would potentially be a genuine treasure. It has tons of advice for meeting allies and romantic partners, for coming out to parents, friends and co-workers, for regional resources, and for good books, movies and music for women-oriented women (a list that would, today be much, MUCH longer). Best moment in the book (for me)? "The lesbian answer to Morrisey's whining, ultra unhappiness is Ferron, the gin-sodden antidote to militantly cheerful folksingers. Her songs are resolutely unhappy and forever mopey. More than resembling Morrisey or redoing Dylan, she is the lesbian Leonard Cohen and thank god someone is." You don't say. I'll just be adding her to my library list, then.......more
I fell in love with David Levithan last spring when I first read Boy Meets Boy. He has an eye for the truth, and writes messy emotions and relationshiI fell in love with David Levithan last spring when I first read Boy Meets Boy. He has an eye for the truth, and writes messy emotions and relationships in a way that feels both poetic and real. This book is no exception. The Lover's Dictionary is the story of a relationship, in the format of a series of dictionary entries. The ups and downs of the relationship are presented alphabetically rather than chronologically, so it is difficult at first to piece together the lives of the two parties and what point their relationship is at at the time it was written. While the narrator is male, there is nothing to indicate the gender of his partner. It's not a long book -- easily readable in under an hour -- but it contains all the elements one would expect of a real and complex relationship: love, excitement, joy, humour, betrayal, anger, pain, sadness. The emotions are more clearly described than the events which inspire them, making it easy for the reader to identify with the narrator. A worthwhile pursuit for anyone who has ever been in love....more
Of course I picked this up because I love Stephen Fry's comedy, and I wanted to see how it translated to the printed page. I wouldn't say I was disappOf course I picked this up because I love Stephen Fry's comedy, and I wanted to see how it translated to the printed page. I wouldn't say I was disappointed, but I will say this book was not exactly what I was expecting. I did enjoy the characters, and there were many moments that had me laughing out loud, but the non-sequential narrative and use of some scenes in which characters are not identified by name meant I spent half the book being confused. However, I was entertained enough by the style (humorous if a bit pretentious at times) that I didn't worry too much about trying to disentangle the plot, letting it unfold as it would. I suppose when a book starts with the line, "Not one word of the following is true", and the title The Liar, one should not expect a reliable narrator, and Adrian Healey certainly lives up to that lack of expectation. The plot follows Healey through his youth at a posh English boarding school up through his experiences at Cambridge, and includes international espionage, murder, a spurious Dickens manuscript and a great many romantic hijinks. That is, it does if you believe Adrian Healey. The main disappointment, for me at least, was the fact that the romantic subplots don't end up tying into the main plot, nor are they resolved in a really satisfying way. I imagine the only way to fully understand what happens would be to reread it immediately, but I'm not sure I feel like doing that....more
Second in the Russel Millbrook series (of which there are currently two). Read it on the off chance that it was better than the first one, and it was.Second in the Russel Millbrook series (of which there are currently two). Read it on the off chance that it was better than the first one, and it was. Marginally. It's the summer following the events detailed in Geography Club, and Russel and his best friends Gunnar and Min are all going to be camp counselors. Russel, tired of the constant harassment he has endured at school as "the gay kid" has decided to take advantage of being surrounded by strangers to step back into the closet for a few months. But of course things don't go quite according to plan. First off, there's a hot guy at camp, Web, who may or may not be gay, depending on whether it's Min or Russel telling it. There's Gunnar's vow to give up looking for a girlfriend -- just as the perfect girl for him shows up. And then there Otto, the boy with the beautiful singing voice and the scarred face, who might be the friend Russel needs when things get crazy with his friends from home. Typical summer romance plot (even if the gender dynamic is atypical in teen lit). The characters are by and large shallow teenagers and the pairings are by and large pretty obvious. Not many surprises here, but I did like the idea of giving Russel a cabin full of kids whose trust and respect he has to earn (and win back when he screws it up the first time), because it forces him to grow a bit more of a spine than he had in the last book (though it's still a bit rubbery). Oh, and Web? I've dated him. If it was possible to punch a fictional character in the face, I would totally do it....more
Russel Middlebrook is alone. He's the only gay student at Goodkind High School. Except he isn't. When Russel takes a risk and decides to reveal his seRussel Middlebrook is alone. He's the only gay student at Goodkind High School. Except he isn't. When Russel takes a risk and decides to reveal his secret to someone, he discovers a handful of others like himself; lonely and desperate for someone to talk to about their lives. But how do a bunch of kids from wildly different social scenes get together without it looking suspicious? They start an after school club of course! And how do they keep everyone else from discovering their secret? With the most boring club name they can think of. And so the Geography Club is born. There are of course major themes of bullying, popularity and teenage romance, as there should be in a story with this subject matter, but overall, I didn't feel like they were very well-handled. For one thing, adults play almost no role in this book. A potentially interesting subplot involving a teacher getting fired for teaching comprehensive sex ed is dismissed in a couple of pages. We never even meet our narrator's parents. They are explained away late in the story as being uninvolved in his life, which is ridiculous; even if they're not around much, you cannot convince me that a teenager's parents are not a major factor in the life and thoughts of their child. For another thing, at no point in the story do the bullies get called out for their BS. Maybe life is like that sometimes, but when you're writing a story about learning to accept yourself and other people for who they are, shouldn't this be addressed? In fact, everyone treats pretty much everyone else like crap. OK, so they are teenagers, but the main character lies all the time, even to his friends (and makes excuses for his lies), and even the characters who are meant to be best friends hardly ever stand by one another unless they are forced to it. I kept wanting to yell at Russel to grow a spine already. Even when he knows what he's doing is completely the wrong thing to do, he does it anyway. He doesn't step up until he is maliciously outed to the whole school, and no longer has anything to lose, socially speaking. To his credit, once he starts stepping up, he continues to do so, even when it means making actual hard choices. Another issue I had with this book is that it is written at no more than a sixth grade reading level, though due to its subject matter, there is some strong language and "adult" themes thrown in. The story is simple and a little predictable, and the characters are all pretty two-dimensional. Yes, this is teen fiction, but it feels dumbed down. Maybe that's authentic to Russel's voice as a clueless teenage narrator, but I much prefer David Levithan's writing style, even if he does get a little pretentious on occasion. I'm not saying that this is a bad book, or that it has a bad message, or teens couldn't get something valuable out of reading it; it's just not as interesting as it might have been....more
This non-fiction book is a collection of essays, poems, IM chats and true stories submitted by young people, ages about 16 to 23, detailing their expeThis non-fiction book is a collection of essays, poems, IM chats and true stories submitted by young people, ages about 16 to 23, detailing their experiences of growing up and coming out queer. There's plenty of what you'd expect in terms of parental anger, rejection by friends, and harassment by peers, but I was struck by the overwhelming optimism of many of the pieces. It is wonderful to know that there are numerous young people who have had a positive experience of growing up queer in America. The story I found the most moving was the one by a young lesbian who felt called by God to try for ordination in the Methodist Church -- a goal which is currently impossible, but she plans to continue trying nevertheless. There was also a story by a young gay man who went to work for an NGO in Egypt, and became involved with the gay community there, only to discover what a scary, dangerous place Egypt currently is to be queer. I challenge you to read this book and not to be moved and inspired by these strong young voices that, through adversity, have managed to gain such wisdom and insight about life and humanity at such an early age....more
This book describes itself as a remix of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and I can't fault the description. The premise is changes from an embitteThis book describes itself as a remix of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and I can't fault the description. The premise is changes from an embittered 19th century miser scoffing at Christmas to a 21st century teen, Ben, whose girlfriend, Marly, has recently died of cancer, and who can't bear to face the approaching Valentines Day. The story borrows a little too heavily from the source material, and the Dickensian vocabulary and phrasing ring awkward in the mouths and minds of the contemporary teenage American cast. The characters, scenes and dialogue feel almost self-consciously matched line-for-line with the original. I could have wished Levithan had relied a little more on his own genius and storytelling ability. While the premise is sound, the story is not as inspired as it could be, and the juxtaposition of contemporary and traditional language is jarring and distracting. Such a disappointment from an author I love so much....more
Will Grayson is a high school student who lives his life by two very simple rules: 1) Not caring, and 2) Shutting up. He believes that it is invariablWill Grayson is a high school student who lives his life by two very simple rules: 1) Not caring, and 2) Shutting up. He believes that it is invariably violation of one or both of these rules that leads to drama. Unfortunately for him, his best friend Tiny Cooper (who is not only enormous and flamboyantly gay, but is getting ready to produce a high school musical about his life) does not live by these rules, and the resulting drama often sweeps Will up along with him. Will is having a bad day, and is beginning to figure out that his rules might be preventing him from actually enjoying life, when -- through a series of strange coincidences -- who should he meet but another Will Grayson. The second Will Grayson, who suffers from severe depression and poor self-image, has just been rather appallingly screwed over by his only friend, and suddenly bereft of the boy he had hoped would become his first boyfriend. With this chance encounter and the words, "in a way, it's good [...:] Love and truth being tied together, I mean. They make each other possible," the lives of both Will Graysons begin to change for the better. Things aren't ever perfect, of course, and the characters have plenty of room to mess up, but their emotions ring true as they begin to take control of their lives and reach out to other people. The story is told in alternating chapters, each Will's point of view being written by one of the book's authors (I'm still not entirely sure which chapters Levithan wrote). It also shakes one of the great truths upon which many of us have based our lives: You can't always pick your friends, and sometimes you have to pick your friend's nose....more
I really enjoyed this collection of short stories. The variety of styles and characters highlighted, for me, the creative genius of David Levithan, anI really enjoyed this collection of short stories. The variety of styles and characters highlighted, for me, the creative genius of David Levithan, and made me think a lot about what it is that I like so much about him. I've come to the conclusion that a lot of authors writing for young people these days are writing morality tales, even if they themselves don't realise it. They've bought into the ideals of romantic "true love" and that sex and drugs are always bad and always have negative consequences. Levithan does not do this. His characters realise that a high school romance, while wonderful, is probably not going to last forever, and that that is okay. Sometimes they mess up and sometimes they get their hearts broken, but it's never the end of the world. There's always another chance to try again, and to learn from experience. There are no good people or bad people; just people making mistakes and learning and growing and changing and accepting that sometimes it doesn't work out and experiencing their lives. This is the kind of book I would want my own teenage children reading. Its views on romance and what makes a good person seem a lot healthier to me than what the current culture showcases. I feel like a lot of people in my generation have been damaged by what I've come to think of as "Disney Princess Ideals". Someday my prince will come, and if I'm a good enough person, everything will work out all right. Real life isn't like that, and if we expect it to be, we end up disappointed, and worried that maybe we just weren't "good enough" to deserve our "happy ending". Real life, real love, and real happiness require work and the willingness to take risks, and that's what makes them worthwhile....more
Duncan -- sixteen, gay, and Jewish -- and Jimmy -- his politically active boyfriend -- have just achieved the seemingly impossible: they have taken paDuncan -- sixteen, gay, and Jewish -- and Jimmy -- his politically active boyfriend -- have just achieved the seemingly impossible: they have taken part in the successful campaign of Abraham Stein, the first gay and first Jewish president-elect of the United States of America. But when the election results are called into question, Duncan must overcome his fear of confrontation and conflict in order to stand up for what he believes is right. If he can't do it in time, he risks losing Jimmy. This story, set in the mid-21st century, is a love song -- an anthem -- for America, not as it is, but as it could be. Some of the ideas in this book seemed a little far-fetched, but I found myself longing to live in a world where they're not -- where faith and compassion need not fall on opposite sides of the political divide -- where people make a stand for change, not backing down from their beliefs, without resorting to hate, violence, or intimidation. I think it's possible. I'd like to see it in my lifetime. This book made me feel the way Pete Seeger makes me feel: like I want to get involved, and be an agent of change in this world, leaving it a better, happier, kinder place than I found it. There were moments that taxed my ability to suspend my disbelief (e.g., the variation on the "Boy Named Sue" story), but on the whole, the characters were very real and sympathetic, and I'd like to think that, in similar circumstances, I would be right there with them on the capitol lawn in Topeka, joining hands and singing and hoping and praying and standing up to be counted for something I believed in....more
Take Spoon River Anthology and change the setting to a contemporary American high school, and you get this book. Twenty teens tell their stories, thTake Spoon River Anthology and change the setting to a contemporary American high school, and you get this book. Twenty teens tell their stories, their thoughts, their feelings about themselves and one another through poetry. Boyfriends and girlfriend and best friends and former friends and potential friends and brothers and sisters and people who have never spoken a word to one another. Each voice is different, the writing styles vary, but one thing remains true throughout: no matter how alone they may feel, or how they may see themselves and their lives, there is someone else thinking about them, seeing them in a different light, and maybe caring about them more deeply than they know. The words are personal -- not the kind of thing you would ever share with someone else -- but it left me thinking, maybe we should. Maybe we have become too disconnected from one another, all closed up inside ourselves. Maybe the world would be a better place if we took those thoughts and shared them with one another. I was thinking about you. You're pretty terrific, you know....more
It's been more than eight years, and it amazes me how hard it still is to read a novel set against the backdrop of 9/11. Because as soon as I'm experiIt's been more than eight years, and it amazes me how hard it still is to read a novel set against the backdrop of 9/11. Because as soon as I'm experiencing it through the characters' eyes and reading their emotions and reactions, I'm right back there again, remembering everything I saw and felt and thought on that day. This book captures the raw, realness of the event very well. The characters deal with the emotional fallout of a day which changes their lives in obvious and unexpected ways, the huge, insurmountable fact of it making their former existence seem surreal. The story follows three New York teens just on the verge of adulthood, who met at a party the Saturday before: kindhearted Claire, who wants so badly to believe in the basic goodness of human nature, and Jasper and Peter, whose first date was supposed to be the night of 9/11. The story follows them through that day, and then through the the year and more after. There's little talk of terrorists; only of people and how common experience unites us, common sorrow compels us to compassion, and connections made in the darkest times can grow into the truest friendships.
Sept 2011 re-read: I re-read this book as a sort of private memorial on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and it was a slightly surreal experience. Reading the first chapter brought back the flood of thoughts, memories and images from that devastating day with such immediacy that I almost felt as though, if I turned on the TV, I would find it still happening. The rest of the story holds all of Levithan's usual charm, but it's the first few chapters, and the way the capture the distress and disbelief of that day, which make this a truly important book. There's a generation of teenagers coming up who don't even remember what it was like, and I can't think of a better way to help them understand than to read this book....more