November 05, 2013

BOOKS: Two Boys Kissing, David Levithan (2013)

Over the course of a single weekend, we follow the lives of several high school boys who make up a cross-section of what it is to be a young gay guy today. A pair of exes engaged in a political demonstration; a couple in the comfort of mid-relationship; a couple who've just met; some singles who are coping (or not) with the stresses of being gay and alone.

The narrative voice is in the first person plural, made up of the ghosts of the generation of young men lost to AIDS. For me, one of the surviving members of that generation, that occasionally brought up tears, as I was reminded yet again of just how damned awful those years were, or as random words or turns of phrase would remind me of particular friends.

Levithan's characters capture what it feels like to be young; his narrators capture what it feels like to look back on youth. It's a powerful combination. And that narrative voice is a glorious thing to read, wise and insightful, sad without being bitter, missing their lives in all their joy and pain and confusion. There are thoughts, sentences, paragraphs, that I wish I could have heard at 15 or 16 (even if I suspect wouldn't have understood or believed them at the time). I loved this paragraph, for instance:

The first sentence of the truth is always the hardest. Each of us had a first sentence, and most of us found the strength to say it out loud to someone who deserved to hear it. What we hoped, and what we found, was that the second sentence of the truth is always easier than the first, and the third sentence is even easier than that. Suddenly you are speaking the truth in paragraphs, in pages. The fear, the nervousness, is still there, but it is joined by a new confidence. All along, you've used the first sentence as a lock. But now you find that it's the key.
I'm curious to know what the YA audience for whom the book is written will make of that voice and that perspective. Do they know the history of that era well enough to understand it who these narrators are, and will it just come across as old guys preaching at them?

By the end of the book, the narrators are shouting out (to borrow Whitman's words) a "barbaric yawp" in celebration of life, demanding that it be lived and loved and fought for with every ounce of strength.

Stunning book, recommended with the highest possible enthusiasm.

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