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“Every Day” by David Levithan


David Levithan is an amazing, amazing writer who needs no accolades from me. Nevertheless, I’m giving them to him. 😉 Levithan is the author of one of my all-time favorite YA novels, the incandescent “Boy Meets Boy,” and co-author of books you, dear reader, and I absolutely adore, like “Will Grayson, Will Grayson,” “Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares,” and “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.”

“Every Day” is Levithan’s latest book, and the concept is blow-your-mind unique: A is a genderless entity, a being or soul, who inhabits a different 16 year old body each day. Boy, girl, black, white, Asian, straight, gay, transgendered, fat, slim, popular, suicidal … you name it, A has been that person for one day. A’s host remembers nothing of the “lost” day, apparently because A is able to implant alternate memories. A can access only internal facts about the host — locker combinations, sibling names, etc. — not emotional connections. A is, however, subject to the biological or chemical constraints of the host body and any corresponding emotional conditions caused by those constraints. (There is an absolutely harrowing day when A, in an addict’s body, uses every bit of mental energy to combat nearly overpowering drug cravings; similarly, A’s one day as a clinically depressed girl is devastating.)

When we meet A, A is in the body of Justin, a typical brooding high school guy with a chip on his shoulder and a pretty girlfriend. That girlfriend is the vulnerable, often heartbroken Rhiannon, who basically stays with Justin because (a) she thinks he’ll become a better version of himself, and (b) she’s afraid to be alone. Lo and behold, when A is in Justin’s body, Justin is, indeed, a better version of himself. A ignores the “rules” and has Justin do some un-Justin-like things, like ditching school and taking Rhiannon to the beach. Even worse (or better?), A-as-Justin is suddenly more caring, attentive, and open, leading the beaten-down Rhiannon to emerge more fully from her protective shell. In one epic day, Rhiannon falls in love with “Justin” again, while A, for the first time in A’s life, falls in love, too.

Except, of course, that epic day has to end. When A next lands in the body of Nathan, an overachieving, straight-laced guy, he drives for hours and crashes a party attended by Rhiannon. “Nathan,” posing as a gay, non-romantic interest, dances the night away with Rhiannon and later contacts her by email. (A keeps a personal email account.) Unfortunately, A has to keep Nathan out late for the party — the switch to the next host always occurs at midnight, regardless — meaning that Nathan wakes up on the side of the road with no memory of how he got there. When Nathan’s story of demonic possession goes viral — and when Nathan himself starts emailing A demanding answers — A’s anonymity and very existence become threatened. Still, being smitten and nursing the hope of finally living a regular life, A risks all and reveals all to Rhiannon. She reluctantly agrees to keep meeting A, in all A’s different bodies, while she sorts out her feelings.

“Every Day” is so thought provoking and raises such intriguing questions about personhood and identity and love, that for these reasons alone — not to mention the beautiful writing and amazingly complex one-day characterizations — it’s a winner. Do we really love the person inside, or is the exterior an inevitable factor? A slowly realizes that it’s easier for Rhiannon to connect with him when A is inhabiting a hot guy than when A is morbidly obese or female. A is such a remarkable character, mature beyond A’s earthly years, yet still a teenager who can be rash and impulsive. But A is different in one crucial way. Unlike the rest of us, A sees no gender or sexual orientation. A exists as a pure identity. An essence. A being. Seeing how this all plays out is illuminating and heartbreaking and kind of beautiful. Huge kudos to David Levithan for pulling off the logistics of the hosting so smoothly and for making the romance between A and Rhiannon so incredibly ill fated (and, thus, so incredibly intriguing).

[Total side note, but as I read “Every Day,” I thought of Against Me! lead singer Laura Jane Grace. Laura Jane was born as Tom Gabel, but she knew from a very young age that she was a woman. Tom married Heather Gabel a few years ago, and together they had a daughter. Tom struggled all this time with gender dysphoria, the technical term for feeling like your external anatomy and the sex roles assigned to it don’t line up with your internal gender identity. In May of 2012, Tom came out publicly as transitioning to a woman, Laura Jane, despite the prejudices of some in the punk and wider communities. Laura Jane is an absolute inspiration of being true to who you are. And you know what’s cool? Heather has stayed with Laura Jane, saying that she fell in love with the person who is Laura Jane, not the external male who was Tom. Awesome. A would be proud.]

There are some truly genius touches here — A inhabits twins on back-to-back days, allowing A to see the after effects on the host — as well as so many captivating insights into the relationships between teens and their peers, parents, and siblings. I highly recommend “Every Day” to older middle and high school readers. It’s really like nothing else I’ve ever read, and a full week after finishing it, I still find myself thinking about A. Which, sign of a great book, y’all. Please check out “Every Day” and see what you think!

every day

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Posted by on October 3, 2012 in Uncategorized


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“Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares” by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan


"Dash & Lily's Book of Dares" is a joint novel by Rachel Cohn and the incredibly fabulous David Levithan (you probably already know this author duo from a little something called "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist"). While this book is no "Nick and Norah's" — or, my personal favorite Levithan pairing, last year's incandescent "Will Grayson, Will Grayson" — it certainly has a lot in its favor. And as far as smart teen romances filled with quirky characters and narrated in alternating chapters … well, you could do worse, believe me.

It's Christmas time in New York City, and our anti-hero Dash stumbles upon a red moleskin journal in the legendary Strand bookstore. Inside the journal, Dash finds a little Strand scavenger hunt created by someone named Lily. Intrigued, Dash adds his own clues to the journal, taking the mysterious Lily out of the Strand and into local neighborhood haunts. Lily then returns the favor, sending Dash along a trail of bread crumbs that eventually includes Santa's lap (at Macy's Herald Square!), Madame Tussaud's wax museum, and the brightly lit houses of Dyker Heights; he returns the favor with a matinee movie, FAO Schwartz's Muppet factory, and a late night Klezmer show at a downtown club. Along the way, the two exchange favorite quotations, musings, and secret confessions, and they kind of-maybe-just possibly fall in love without ever having met. But what will happen when they do meet in person, away from the safe confines of the journal? I will spoil nothing, dear reader. :-p

What works here? Dash is an interesting character. Although he is cut very squarely from the John Green mold — clever, sarcastic, introspective, music-loving, literary, too old for his years — he has some sharper edges. Dash's combative relationship with his distant father factors into several scenes and cuts against the guarded optimism he shows by engaging in Lily's dares. Indeed, it is in Dash's relationships with his friends, especially endearingly loyal best pal Boomer and wise ex-girlfriend Sofia, that we learn more about his true nature than in any of his philosophical journal entries. Lily, on the other hand, works better as a character away from her sometimes cloyingly eccentric family, where we can see her quiet confidence, hopefulness, and individuality play out in a more authentic fashion. I loved the scene were Lily, wearing her great aunt's majorette boots, dances with abandon to the Klezmer music, not caring who is looking or judging her. Lily's increasing independence from her family and her ability to grow into herself — and open this new person up to new friends — makes her romantic journey all the more believable. It also makes us want to root for her at every turn … even when she's acting like a complete knucklehead.

On a somewhat related note, I think teens will find the nearly absolute freedom of the two teens — Dash's divorced folks are away and each mistakenly think the other is watching him; Lily's parents are on an anniversary trip to Fiji while her beloved Grandpa is proposing to his lady friend in Florida — intoxicating. Both are free to flit about the city with few rules or restrictions, although Grandpa does eventually show up to sorta put his foot down. Snowy New York City, in all its holiday grandeur and grotesqueness, provides a wonderful backdrop to the burgeoning teen romance, adding a sense of wonder to what is, after all, an enchanting experience. The authors do such a beautiful job connecting the magic of the city to the magic of falling in love.

I adored the dares, so I was sorry to see those fade in the book's final third, when the characters meet, misunderstand each other, meet again in delightful fashion, move apart, come back together, try again, and so on. Some of this "keep the lovers apart until the end!" felt contrived to me, but I understand the need for tension and I kept eagerly turning the pages. I also thought the story got a bit bogged down in the weight of Dash and Lily's esoteric ideas about friendship, love, expectations, and connections. I'd rather experience what they're feeling — fears, dreams, and all — than be told about it. But it rebounded nicely with a screwball Dash and Lily second chance encounter involving a snowball fight, a wanted poster, a mammoth dog, and the NYPD. (Of course!) And, without giving anything away, the subtle, rather open-ended conclusion felt right for this offbeat, often charming love story.

If you're looking for a smart take on the traditional teen romance, "Dash & Lily's Book of Dares" is a very good choice. Although it has some flaws, the richly created main characters, as well as the humorous touches and New York City travelogue, make this one an engaging, fun, thoughtful read. There is some harsh language and some veiled sexual references here, so I'm thinking maybe 8th grade and up? Hope you like it … and happy holidays!

PS – "Dash and Lily's …" is being adapted into a film. Keep your eyes out for it sometime in late 2011 or 2012.

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Posted by on December 12, 2010 in Uncategorized


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“Will Grayson, Will Grayson” by John Green & David Levithan


Huge thanks to the generous people at Penguin Books for Young Readers. I cannot imagine a better advanced copy to receive than "Will Grayson, Will Grayson," a joint effort by John Green and David Levithan. Yes, you read those authors' names correctly. Squee!

Basically — as the title may indicate — we have two Will Graysons, both high school students in the greater Chicago area. The Wills' stories play out in alternating chapters, each narrated by a Will. Our first Will is, for lack of a better way to phrase this, a small moon to the blazing sun that is his best friend, Tiny Cooper. Will is sardonic, quiet, and repressed, a low-key, background kind of guy who devours music but shies away from the trauma of real life. Will believes that getting involved means getting hurt, so he mostly doesn't get involved. His best friend, Tiny, is this huge (literally), incandescent creature bubbling over with life and spirit. Tiny's emotions are always right on the surface, so he cries and shouts with joy and is, always, unfailingly hopeful.

Tiny's also gay and writing a candy colored musical of his life. Before you worry that Tiny is some queen stereotype, remember that David Levithan is writing here, too, and he would never commit such a crime. In fact, one of the things I loved about this book is how multidimensional Tiny is. He's a sweet, thoughtful boyfriend, a callous best friend, a glorious egomaniac, a no-confidence loser … well, you get the picture. He's got believable shading. Without giving anything away, at the end of the novel, Tiny delivers a stirring speech about always having to work so hard to be appreciated; when I read that, all the facets of Tiny's personality clicked into place and I loved him.

The other Will Grayson (who, awesomely, refers to the first Will Grayson as o.w.g.) is a slight, depressed, closeted kid. He mostly despises his few friends, especially goth girl Maura, with whom he has a love/hate relationship (one probably not helped by the fact that Maura is seriously crushing on him, which makes her angry toward Will and herself). This Will Grayson's one lifeline is his online boyfriend, Isaac, who is warm, attentive, and accepting. When Will bravely ventures into the city to meet Isaac in person, he encounters his counterpart Will Grayson, Tiny, and a cool, droll girl named Jane, who may or may not become the first Will Grayson's love interest. From there, shenanigans ensue. 🙂

Nah, I will spoil no plot here. Instead, I'll just provide a list detailing why I really, really enjoyed reading "Will Grayson, Will Grayson":

(1) Granted, while some of the characters are standard here, you'll still come to adore them. The first Will Grayson is a typical John Green clever, maybe cute, loner/nerd/secretly incredible guy, while the aloof, super cool Jane strongly reminded me of the title character in "Looking for Alaska" as well as Margo in "Paper Towns." That's okay. These characters are written in such a smart, endearing way that you'll forgive them for not being wholly original creations. Besides, the epically wonderful Tiny, not to mention the beautifully complex other Will Grayson, are fantastically drawn characters.

(2) There are parental figures here who are loving, understanding folks when given half a chance by their kids. YES! I'm so tired of teen novels with conveniently absent parents. If teen novels are supposed to reflect teen life, then, like real kids, we readers need to see some real parents, too.

(3) I should not have been surprised — David Levithan is the author of the fabulous, genre-busting "Boy Meets Boy" — but I was nevertheless all warm and fuzzy to find a novel with gay characters who are happy and accepted by their peers. When the second Will Grayson comes out at school, it is so blase and ordinary, that I just about burst out in applause. While there is always a place for "issue" novels with GLBTQ characters, I think there's even more of a need for ones where a different sexual orientation or identity doesn't equal some horrible, wrenching fate.

(4) I get that John Green is a big idea guy. Remember all the discussion of Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" in "Paper Towns?" In that case, I found the characters' exploration of Whitman's themes to be tedious discussions that halted the narrative's momentum. Here, the philosophical implications of the Schrodinger's Cat thought experiment for love and life are seamlessly melded into the story. Well done!

"Will Grayson, Will Grayson" is a lovely combination of humor, sarcasm, warmth, and sweetness. It's definitely a high school age novel — an entire scene takes place in a Chicago sex shop — with all the appropriate language and topics for that age group. I found myself smiling, sighing with delight, and getting choked up at so many points in this novel, which I'd guess is as sure a sign as any that it's a winner. Look for "Will Grayson, Will Grayson" in April of 2010.

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Posted by on December 11, 2009 in Uncategorized


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“Boy Meets Boy” by David Levithan


"Boy Meets Boy" — as the title may indicate! — is a love story about two teen guys falling for each other. High school sophomore Paul catches sight of new guy Noah in the self-help section of a local bookstore during a reggae concert. Noah is new in town, a photographer and artist who recently survived a terrible breakup. Paul falls hard for Noah, who seems like the perfect match for him, and their burgeoning relationship is like pure magic. They go on a paddle boat date, pass notes in the hallway, and even paint music in Noah's hidden studio. Loving Noah is like floating joyously along. Unfortunately for Paul, he screws the whole thing up by kissing his ex, Kyle, in a moment of compassion and sympathy. What follows are Paul's clever, heartfelt attempts to win Noah back by showing rather than telling him how he feels.

So that covers the love story portion of the book, but, truly, there's tons more going on here. First off, Paul's world is like something out of a fantastic, candy-colored parallel universe where the high school quarterback (Infinite Darlene) is a transvestite … and no one blinks an eye. The local VHS rental store is shelved according to the owner's whims, a high school pep rally features, like, the chess club, and the big dance requires someone to take a whirl with the portrait of a long dead woman. Still, while Paul's life might be a bit wacky from our perspective, it still features its fair share of bigotry; Joni, Paul's best friend, gets a meathead boyfriend who hassles Infinite Darlene and, in the book's most poignant passages, Paul's gay friend Tony finally stands up to his fundamentalist parents, but in a remarkably understated yet brave way.

"Boy Meets Boy" is in no way a story for only gay and/or questioning teens. It works as a love story, a high school coming of age tale, and, perhaps most effectively, as a story about the true measure of friendship. While parts of the novel are silly, there are plenty of moments of genuine feeling, particularly those involving Tony. I loved how this book moved from absurd elements to hard realities without losing any momentum. I'd definitely recommend "Boy Meets Boy" for high school readers.

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Posted by on July 2, 2008 in Uncategorized


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“Wide Awake” by David Levithan


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.

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Posted by on April 12, 2007 in Uncategorized


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“Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” by Rachel Cohn & David Levithan


Two popular YA authors team up here for a love story that takes place on one night among the punk clubs on New York's Lower East Side. Nick is the bassist in a band, and he's having a hard time getting over his ex, the beautiful but somewhat heartless Tris. When he spots Tris at the show — with a new guy! — Nick tries to save face by asking a random girl to pretend to be his girlfriend for the next five minutes. That girl turns out to be Norah, a super smart, super knowledgeable punk fan (her dad is a music executive) who initially hangs with Nick because she needs a ride home for her drunk best friend, Caroline. Pretty soon, though, Nick and Norah realize there's something special about the way they connect, even if they're both scared and hurt and confused. They spend the rest of the night (mostly) together, going to clubs, diners, and (gasp!) even the corporate world of midtown Manhattan. Along the way, both Nick and Norah learn that they need to let go of the past if they're going to have a real chance at the future.

This book is narrated by Nick and Norah in alternating chapters, so the reader knows just what each is thinking about the other. It's a great method, since it allows us to see how insecure, nervous, and, at times, brave, each character is. While Levithan wrote Nick's chapters and Cohn Norah's, the book is not at all disjointed.

The scenes involving music — whether in the pit at a club or talking about it afterward — are absolutely perfect. Music fans will marvel at how well the authors capture the pure joy and exhilaration of a great show. And the characters are remarkably complex. Tris, who at first seems like an awful "mean girl" cliche, turns out to be so much deeper. In fact, she eventually plays a pivotal role in getting Nick and Norah together. "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist" is a book for older teens, since the language and some of the situations might be too much for younger readers. It's one of the better books I've read in a long time, and it's definitely one that can be enjoyed by both boys and girls.

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Posted by on November 7, 2006 in Uncategorized


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