Archives for posts with tag: david levithan


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.”

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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.

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Today’s post will be a bit different. Katie over at Youth Literature Review, had a lovely post last Tuesday, entitled “Top Ten Authors I’m Thankful For“. This post got me to thinking. Being thankful for an author is very different than simply loving an author’s work, or enjoying recommending their books. I’ve spent the weekend mulling over this distinction and wondering first if there are specific authors that I’m actually thankful for. And, if so, who and why?

Well it didn’t take long to answer in the affirmative to to the first question, because there are so many decisions I’ve made in life and goals that I’ve created, and then striven to achieve in life, that can be traced to one author: Madeleine L’Engle. I read and reread her books in junior high and high school. Not just her famous books, but all of them, children’s and adult. Her books made me feel like I wasn’t alone even though I spent most of those years feeling very alone. I also really admired her characters. They were intelligent, cultured, well-travelled, and passionate. I wanted to be just like them. Her books inspired me to read Shakespeare, listen to classical music, pay attention to art, take the time to travel and they directly influenced my educational trajectory. I wanted to attend an all-women’s college for a variety of reasons, but admittedly one of those reasons was because L’Engle had. I wrote one of my college entrance essays about her books and wrote my Masters dissertation about A Swiftly Tilting Planet. And, although it’s been years since the days I poured over all her books, she indirectly influenced my decision to pursue a PhD. A Wrinkle in Time is celebrating it’s 50th anniversary right now, so there are tributes to L’Engle all over the place. I like knowing that she has influenced so many other people, including recent Newbery winner Rebecca Stead, whose When You Reach Me is an homage to L’Engle. She passed away when I was in the first year of my PhD. I never met her, although I did venture to St. John the Divine in NY once, because I knew she had been a librarian there. I never really needed to meet her though. I needed her books and I am truly thankful for them.

As for other authors I’m thankful for, I agree with Katie, that J. K. Rowling would definitely make the list, because of the connections and memories she inspired. I love that Harry created a common ground for so many people of varying ages. I love that my friends and I got dressed up for the release parties and celebrated book 5 in Boston, book 6 in London, and book 7 on Cape Cod. I love that in London we were interviewed by CNN International and BBC Spain because our group was first in line at Borders near Oxford Circus. I love that everyone in that group was over 18.

I’m thankful to Nancy Garden for writing YA books about gay and lesbian characters, when it was not socially acceptable to do so. I’m grateful that she continued writing books despite the incredible backlash against Annie on My Mind. I’m thankful that David Levithan currently writes amazing YA books with gay and lesbian characters that have redefined the genre. I appreciate that he neutralized the trauma of coming out in YA lit and writes great stories, where a character’s sexuality is integrated into their overall complex and nuanced identity.

In addition to Madeleine L’Engle, there are two other writers who have directly influenced my education: Thomas Mann and Diana Wynne Jones. I have vivid memories of reading Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers when I was 19. I was taking time off after high school and hadn’t started college yet. I spent a lot of that time debating about what I wanted to study once I went back and had come of with a variety of possibilities. The train of thought as I was reading Mann’s book was awe at the phenomenal narrative that he had created. I then started thinking about how much I enjoyed literature and that I wanted to spend my life reading great books. And it became so clear: I wanted to study literature in college. It was so obvious that I couldn’t even begin to explain why I hadn’t realized it before. So I majored in English, with a minor in Religion. I later encountered Diana Wynne Jones’s books for the first time in graduate school. I had signed up to present during week 5 of our British Children’s Lit post 1960 class. The assignment was Fire and Hemlock and I started to read the book with no prior knowledge or awareness about Jones or this particular story. I loved loved loved the book, but I did not have any idea how to begin interpreting it. During the research for my presentation I finally understood that the book was a rewriting of the Scottish ballads “Tam Lin” and “Thomas the Rhymer”. I distinctly remember the fwomp moment of enlightenment. Jones hadn’t simply rewritten the stories, she had rewritten the questions and ambiguities intrinsic in these two ballads. From there I became interested in Scottish ballads, fairy tales, rewriting, and metanarrative, which lead me to emailing a professor at the University of Edinburgh, who eventually became my advisor.

There you go. A literary history of sara’s education. Thanks, Katie, for the idea. Writing this post has reminded me how much of my life has been influenced by various authors and how tremendously thankful I am for them.

As I’ve indicated before, there are many amazing YA books being published these days, but my favorite ones to recommend are anything by David Levithan and John Green, especially Will Grayson/Will Grayson, which is co-written by David Levithan AND John Green (Speak, $9.99). woot!

Two Will Graysons, living in two different suburbs of Chicago meet unexpectedly one night. Like all of Levithan’s books, the spectrum of sexuality is represented through a range of characters. Gay, lesbian, bi, straight, questioning, unknown: they’re all there and they’ll all supported and encouraged. This book alternates between the two Will Grayson’s, one written by each author. Levithan’s stories are refreshing because they don’t include the ‘traumatic coming out’ experience that is often a staple in lbgtq YA books. The characters in his books, regardless of their sexual orientation, are always interesting kids. Levithan’s Will Grayson is more melancholic than many of his other characters (Paul in Boy Meets Boy immediately comes to mind), but mostly because he’s a teenager, not because he’s gay. Green’s Will Grayson has his own issues with relationships and friendships. His spot on commentary about high school dynamics made me laugh out loud several times.

But don’t stop there, read all of their other books, too, because Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List (co-written with Rachel Cohn), The Realm of Possibilities, An Abundance of Katherines, and, of course, the amazing The Fault in Our Stars are each phenomenal. And let’s all hope that they collaborate again soon.

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