Thursday, August 29, 2013

Book Review: "Two Boys Kissing" by David Levithan

David Levithan, you have slayed me once again. Every Day, and, of course, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which you co-wrote with John Green, have taken their place among my favorite books of all time. And while I didn't think it could be possible, I loved Two Boys Kissing more than those. Seriously.

Seventeen-year-old former boyfriends Harry and Craig are planning to set a new Guinness World Record for continuous kissing. To do so, they'll need to kiss continuously for over 32 hours. This will take physical strength, yes, but also significant emotional fortitude and support from many, many people, since the sight of two boys kissing at all—let alone publicly for 32+ hours—will be difficult if not downright unacceptable for some.

While Harry and Craig undertake their record-setting quest, navigate their true feelings for one another, and deal with the myriad number of issues that will arise during this period, two other young couples are dealing with their own issues. Peter and Neil, who have been together for over a year, are struggling with trying to determine what their expectations of each other and their future should be, while Avery and Ryan, who just met, are struggling with issues of gender identity and all of the nerves of a blossoming relationship. Meanwhile, Tariq, a friend of Craig and Harry's, is trying to overcome his fears after being beaten up by a group of thugs, and Cooper is dealing with the aftermath of his parents' discovery of his homosexuality.

All of these storylines may seem somewhat typical, but Levithan develops each with depth and empathy in a short number of pages. And what lifts this book up even further is that it is narrated by a nameless Greek chorus of men who died of AIDS. Part lamentation for what they lost, part reflection on the struggles each of the characters are going through, since they've seen it all, their words are so insightful, so moving, so dead-on in many, many ways, I literally found myself tearing up multiple times as I flew through the book.

"You must understand: We were like Cooper. Or at least had moments when we were like Cooper. Just as we had moments when we were like Neil, Peter, Harry, Craig, Tariq, Avery, Ryan. We had moments when we were like each of you. This is how we understand. We wore your flaws. We wore your fears. We made your mistakes."

I read this entire book in one day, and I was moved and inspired beyond my expectations. Levithan made me laugh, think, and, as I mentioned earlier, cry with his words. I can't even begin to count the number of times he so perfectly captured many of the feelings I had as a teenager struggling with my sexuality, with self-esteem, with bullying, with wondering if my parents and family and friends would ever be able to accept me for who I was. And the book was pitch-perfect in its portrayal of the rush of emotions when you first meet someone you like and realize they feel the same way, the anxiety of wondering whether there will be a second date, the beauty of a first kiss.

I've said before how much I marvel at the state of YA fiction today, especially LGBT-themed fiction. I wish that Two Boys Kissing had existed when I was a teenager, because it would have been a tremendous help and comfort to me. I wish there was some way this book could be required reading for those struggling with their sexuality and with self-acceptance, as I believe it really could make a difference. Levithan doesn't create an unrealistic world where there are no problems and no struggles, but he shows how wonderful life has the potential to be, even when you don't think it can.

This is honestly one of the best books I've read in some time. Thank you, David Levithan, for this experience. I feel changed for the better.

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