Don’t you love it when you read a book by one of your favorite authors and it turns out to be Just As Good as all the other books you’ve loved that were written by that author? It’s so satisfying. I bought David Levithan’s Every You, Every Me (Ember, $8.99) a few weeks ago, and finally read it over the weekend. I think there is always that slight trepidation when reading a book by an author you like because the expectations are high. I am fully aware that the driving force behind reading this book was the knowledge that I like Levithan’s books, not so much that I wanted to read this book in particular. The text is by Levithan and the photographs are by Jonathan Farmer. I’m better at reading text than images and I’m going to admit up front that I don’t think I got a lot out of the images. I appreciated them, however, and I did enjoy trying to see if I could find connections between the story in the images and the story in the words. I’d love to know what other people thought of the photographs and of their contribution to the book.
As for the text, I hate to ruin some of the central questions in the narrative, so forgive me for being rather obscure here. Especially since I’m going to discuss the ending. I did enjoy this book all the way through. It had some great lines that made me want to cry simply because I was shocked at how precisely someone I don’t know could express feelings that I’ve had and could never talk about. But the ending. wow. Three teenagers get into a debate about the Ariel, the central character in this novel. You must understand, that although Ariel is a central character, she is absent. They are arguing over what she wants. or wanted. or should want. arguing about what’s best for her. who knew the truth about her. the real her. whether Ariel should have been supported. or protected. then the conversation turns. it’s not just about one girl but about being a girl:
She isn’t crazy, . . . She sees through all the phoniness. She sees what the world is really like. And the world can’t stand girls like that. The world has to put them in their place, put them away. You wanted her to be this uncomplicated girl, but by trying to force her to be that girl, you unraveled her.
This is a novel about depression, mental illness, and suicide. but ho-ly crap. that is deep. Really deep. And that paragraph stopped me in my tracks. Where does the novel go from here? Who is right? The boys who tried to protect Ariel? Or a girl who thinks Ariel should be free, even if freedom means death? Because in nineteenth-century literature that’s exactly what freedom means for women. The choice is a stark one: learn to submit and live within the patriarchy or die. That choice sucks. And here is a YA novel taking on this literary conundrum. My heart stopped because I know from studying literature that there is rarely a satisfactory resolution. Literary women often stand at the brink with a choice: step back into the fold and lose yourself or step outside and lose everything else. When reading Every You, Every Me, my heart started racing because I suddenly knew there was no way for this story to end well. I knew that I was going to be disappointed and heartsick. for Ariel. for women. for me.
About two pages later, another female character, someone who had been rather quiet for most of the argument, speaks up. Her words, which I will refrain from quoting here, blew me away. Because she says the one thing that could make everything ok. The one thing I didn’t even know was possible because it’s so rarely spoken in literature.
As a woman, I often think “we’ve come so far, but we’ve got so far to go”. And then I read this book and all I feel is awe because we’ve come so far.