TEEN LIBRARIAN'S REVIEW:
David Levithan is the author or co-author of several novels for teens, including "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist," "Are We There Yet?" and "Boy Meets Boy". In his latest novel, "Wide Awake," Levithan takes us to America roughly forty or so years from today, at a time when a gay, Jewish candidate (Abraham Stein) has just been elected President by a razor-thin margin in the state of Kansas. Duncan Weiss is a sixteen year-old high school student who volunteered for the Stein campaign. As a gay, Jewish teenager, Duncan is ecstatic about Stein's victory … until the day after the election, when the Governor of Kansas announces a challenge to the results. Duncan, his boyfriend Jimmy, their "Jesus Freak" friends Mandy and Janna, and several other campaign volunteers and friends eventually decide to travel to Kansas to take part in a massive demonstration for would-be President Stein. The road trip from New Jersey to Kansas and the sometimes heated protest there comprise the bulk of the novel.
I'm still somewhat unsure of my reaction to this book. On the one hand, I thought Levithan did a superb job of taking current political and social tensions and crafting them into a believable, relevant story. I loved the fact that the Jesus Freaks I mentioned above are not the ultra-conservative evangelicals that many of us today would associate with that negative term. Instead, this group embraces the somewhat derogatory label and takes it as their mission to be examples of Jesus in all ways — being compassionate, forgiving, and loving — even to those who preach hatred and division. I thought that was a terrific way to take a current stereotype and explore its meaning.
My problem with this book lies in the fact that all too much of it reads like a political diatribe. Some of the speeches — and there are many in the book — are touching, compelling, and quite thought provoking. Far too many, however, are simply tedious for the reader to slog through. They often feel like the same thoughts and ideals re-expressed over and over again. I guess I wanted something more to happen in the book than simply page after page of various characters giving speeches on politics, unity, and acceptance.
There's a lot to like in this novel and some genuinely heartfelt moments as well. I'd say if you're a high school age reader who is looking for a timely novel with a political theme, this might be a good choice. I just wish it had been a richer story.