We look back and identify ground breaking books: Alice in Wonderland, Where the Wild Things Are, Snowy Day. Do we know they are groundbreaking when they first come out? In some ways, yes. The immediate audience was aware that these books did something different; they changed something in publishing. To me, David Levithan’s newest book, Two Boys Kissing (Knopf, $18.99, out today), feels groundbreaking. The book is about two boys kissing. The title is Two Boys Kissing, and even the cover image shows two boys kissing. This book does not blink. It does not compromise. Don’t like it? Avert your eyes, because this book is. And it’s phenomenal. Like the books listed above, Two Boys Kissing is groundbreaking not because it has an agenda. Not because it’s trying to prove something or change anything. But because it is so well written and is an amazing story. Inspired by true events, the story centers on two boys who are trying to set a new record for the longest kiss — upwards of 32 hours. But there are several other stories woven throughout and they all deal with boys at various stages of their relationships. The novel is narrated by a Greek chorus of gay men who died from AIDS in the 1980s and this is where things really start to get interesting.
The boys are blissfully unaware of this chorus in the same way that gay kids today are often unaware of the struggles of previous generations. At the risk of saying “kids today!”, that’s exactly what’s happening here, but it is entirely appropriate. Kids, all kids, don’t always know the past. Why should they? They’re kids. As frustrating as it might be for the chorus to see that they boys don’t really know their stories, that is the way it works. Each generation fights to make things better for the next one and that next generation reaps the benefit without ever knowing there was a fight.
As for the chorus, their nostalgia for their own lost youths, their admiration for the freedom within the gay community today, and their resentment that they never had the chance to experience that freedom is heartbreaking. Levithan elicits empathy and love from the reader for both generations.
As I’ve said before, he is a masterful writer. This book, like his others, is differently amazing. I finally had the chance to meet him for about 45 seconds and was able to say the one thing that I’ve always wanted to tell him, “I wish your books had been around when I was a teenager.”
I probably should have mentioned this information earlier, but Book Expo America took place over the past week, and I was representing the bookstore for the first time. So although I didn’t post much, I was waist-deep in books, books, books. There are a lot of upcoming titles that I’m very excited about and several of which I have already read and reviewed for this blog. The reviews will be posted when the books are available. I normally try to stay away from reviewing a book too early, because the primary point here is to recommend books that are immediately available. But in the spirit of BEA and because everything is rather fresh in my mind right now, here’s a small taste of some titles that I’m most looking forward to this summer and fall: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (September 10), If You Could be Mine by Sara Farizan (August 20), The Time Fetch by Amy Herrick (August 27), The Dream Thieves by Maggie Steifvater (September 17), and Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (August 27). I’m sure you’ll all be seeing lots of information about these middle-grade and YA books, but be sure to check back here for reviews on the day each book is available.
If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know by now that David Levithan is, hands down, my favorite contemporary YA author. So of course I was delighted when I saw that he had a new book coming out this year. Invisibility is co-written with Andrea Cremer (Philomel, $18.99, out today). Levithan has co-written books with author authors including John Green and Rachel Cohn. I think this format suits him and these books generally offer various interpretations of the same event, which teaches something about perspective. However, Levithan’s books have tended more toward realism and in this way Invisibility is a bit of a departure. As I’ve argued before, though, his books are all differently amazing and he is perpetually pushing the boundaries of YA narrative, so I’m not surprised at this new approach. Furthermore, I don’t know Cremer’s work well enough to know whether she tends to write fantasy. To be fair, Every Day also included some fantastic elements, even while maintaining a sense of realism. Nevertheless, Invisibility contains wizards, curses, and a teenager who is invisible. Now as fantastic as this occurrence might be, it still strikes me as an interesting universal metaphor of the teen experience. I certainly remember feeling invisible. Don’t you? And many, if not all, YA books deal at least tangentially with teenagers who are neither heard, listened to, nor understood. Isn’t that one of the tropes of teenagedom? Feeling like no one ‘hears’ you or ‘sees’ you? Trying you damnedest to see yourself and figure out how to present yourself to the world? Another common trope is the jubilation of meeting someone who finally does see you for who you really are. And this book has an interesting twist on that concept, too. When Elizabeth meets Stephen, she has no idea that he’s invisible, because she can see him. It’s kind of brilliant actually. It’s a poignant reminder that what we see isn’t always seen by others. The fantasy part of this book is good. But it’s the parts that feel the most real, the conundrum of invisibility, that make it an amazing story. And per Leviethan’s style, this book leaves so many unanswered questions that it could easily have a sequel. I expect it won’t though and instead it allows the readers space to write the stories themselves. Stories to be heard. And seen.