Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (2013)


Young adult literature can really be quite experimental in nature, more so than almost any other literary movement I can think of.  For whatever reason, YA authors seem to be given greater leeway in their writing and style by publishers and editors.  The various winners and honors of the Printz seem to bely this fact (Monster, Speak, how i live now).   YA writers are the only ones I can think of who consistently write novels in verse (which I generally despise).  They play around with setting, with gender, with the concepts of linear storytelling.  Dead characters tell stories, multiple characters tell the same stories.  Novels have been written using newspaper articles and text speak.  I don’t know whether teens are more accepting of this or not – some top teen novels I think can of in the last ten years or so have been pretty pedestrian when it comes to technique (although not when it comes to plot and character – think of The Hunger Games or even Twilight).  Two Boys Kissing certainly falls into the category of unusual storytelling, using gay men who have died from AIDs as a sort of greek chorus, relating for us and interpreting for us the day in the life of several gays boys in modern American, seen through both their eyes and our perspective.  It’s an incredibly moving feat of storytelling and writing, and being a part of that generation, some of the lucky, blessed ones at the end, I was moved to tears several times. Most of this really spoke to me – the seventeen year old closeted boy 25 years ago; the newly in love 20something kissing someone for the first time; the jaded, maybe a little sad, but also still hopeful 40 something watching a new generation come of age in a both easier and tougher time.  Those are the several themes going on here:  things have gotten better, things will get better, and some things haven’t changed and maybe will never (?) change.  There are still bullies, and hateful parents, and cutting and suicide and hopelessness.  But the chorus sings to us from death that things have changed, that boys today are so different and have such different opportunities than those boys of the 70s and 80s.  And yet so much the same too – still dancing.  I will quibble with the book, as I have to do – it’s heavy handed at times, and the literary language can make it sometimes pretentious.  I was afraid it would fall down upon itself.  There are some plot points that seem artfully lighted and carefully placed to prove a point rather than move the plot.  But at times, particularly when the chorus is moving us to tears, that’s it’s approaching the place of epic poem,  complete with warriors and tragedy (or maybe opera, albeit with a deus ex machine).  The boys aren’t perfect, and their lives aren’t perfect at the end, but (almost) everything seemed real, and the boys seemed like real 21st century boys.  25 years ago, there was no way I would pick up a book with two boys kissing on the cover.  But I wished it had been around.  Some boy may sneak this home in his backpack, and that fictional deus ex machine maybe will save his life.  And that’s a good thing.  

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This definitely falls into the category of unusual storytelling, using gay men who have died from AIDs as a sort of greek chorus, relating for us and interpreting for a day and a half in the life of several gays boys in modern American, seen through both their eyes and our perspective.  It’s an incredibly moving feat of storytelling and writing, and being a part of a generation before these boys, I was moved to tears several times. Most of this book really spoke to me personally – the seventeen year old closeted boy 25 years ago; the newly in love 20something kissing someone for the first time; the older but wiser and also still hopeful 40 something watching a new generation come of age in a both easier and tougher time. The book is a little heavy handed at times and maybe a wee bit pretentious (the language is very in your face literary).  There are some plot points that seem artfully lit and carefully placed to prove a point rather than move the plot.  But then there are those times, particularly when the chorus is moving us to tears, that’s it approaches  epic poetry,  complete with warriors and tragedy (or maybe opera, with a deus ex machina). That's when it smacks you right in the heart.    25 years ago, there was no way I would pick up a book with two boys kissing on the cover.  But I wished it had been around back then.  Some boy may sneak this home in his backpack, and that fictional deus ex machine maybe will save his life.  And that’s a good thing.  Go read this book now!



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