Ignorance is not bliss. Bliss is knowing the full meaning of what you have been given.
–Two Boys Kissing; David Levithan
I ticked another book off my extremely long TBR list…and managed to pick this delight of a book. I am making an effort to read more LGBTQA books or books about the LGBTQA experience.
AUTHOR: David Levithan
GENRE: Young Adult Fiction
WHERE DID I GET THIS BOOK / WHAT FORMAT: local library / audiobook
RATING: 5/5 stars
SUMMARY: The novel is narrated by the general gay man that died during the height of the AIDS crisis, and in this novel, the gay men of the past narrating observe the gay boys of today. The novel follows seven different gay boys: one (Cooper) that is dealing with the depths of despair and feels unaccepted by the community around him, two (Avery and Ryan) that are trying to navigate a new relationship, two (Peter and Neil) that are trying to navigate an older relationship, and two (Craig and Henry) that are trying to break the world record for the world’s longest kiss. In doing so, Craig and Henry are trying to make a statement to the world: that two boys kissing is not scary, that two boys kissing is normal and acceptable. Their feat touches on the lives of the rest of the boys in the novel in some way, whether in a minuscule way or in a way that is meaningful and lasting. Ultimately, this novel maps out the past, the present, and speculates on the future of the American gay experience.
Trigger warnings: There is an outing scene, and talk of suicide.
THOUGHTS: Okay so I absolutely adored this take on the contemporary gay generation. I am familiar with the AIDS crisis and its victims through fiction and theatre only – the men that were wracked with disease are only those that I have seen on stage, on screen, and in cherished books. This approach to the perspective of those men was unique and gave their story more hope than others would have by allowing those men to see how radically the gay experience has changed in America from the realities that they had known. At first I was a little hesitant about how this approach would work out but it played itself out beautifully.
This was my first novel by David Levithan, and I will definitely be reading more of his work because his writing was sublime. This novel had a tone of breathy wonder, of saddened acknowledgement, of weary resignation, and of renewed hope. I honestly just want to brew tea with Levithan’s prose and drink it all day long, it is that good. This book is so well written that even if I had not liked the storyline or the characters (and to be clear, I LOVED both), I still would have enjoyed the experience of reading it. The prose is heart and tear jerking, full of universal truths and general musings on life and existence itself, and the narration was so wonderfully done that even though this book is Young Adult, it lacks the immaturity that other Young Adult books are subject to because they are narrated by teenagers.
I also think Levithan did a good job of captivating the general contemporary gay experience- some of the minor prejudices approached in everyday life, what it means to be a person of color as well as a gay boy, what it means to have a supportive or unsupportive family, what it means to hate your sexuality or love it, etc. All of these gay characters are approaching their sexuality from a completely different background and mindset, which makes the novel that much more honest. Of course, I can only talk about this with the authority that a straight, not-gay-boy, person can have so please keep that in mind.
I adore how this is an own-voices novel, as Levithan himself is a gay man that was born in between the generations that he writes about, so he is in the perfect place to discuss each different and separate experience while still having a degree of separation from each generation as well. It is a lot more powerful to know that an author is drawing from his own experiences and his own interactions to draw inspiration for a book, especially for a book as relevant and significant as this one is.
I would absolutely recommend this book for anyone and everyone, no matter your reading preferences. It is a short read, and I’d be surprised if you managed to make your whole way through without feeling the prick of tears at least once.