Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

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(Photo by Carla Rennick)


Even if you just skim my review, I beg you to take a look at this interview with Malinda Lo in which Levithan discusses the inspiration for the novel, the cover art, and YA publishing in general.


Summary (from goodreads.com): New York Times bestselling author David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.

I cannot possibly overstate how much I loved Two Boys Kissing. Still, of the countless laudable elements in this book, I will try to limit myself to naming just a few. Most outstanding is Levithan’s choice of narrator–more accurately, narrators. I have never read a book, YA or otherwise, written in the first person plural, and it does take some getting used to. But what it provides–a view of the present through the lens of the past–is a uniquely eye-opening gift. A generation of men whose lives were cut short, largely due to the neglect of the government and the society that should have had their backs, watches over with parental concern the newly maturing generation of gay boys trying to figure out how their sexuality fits into their lives and the world. In this way, without sugarcoating the present, Levithan teaches the reader how far the world has come.

It may be almost redundant to say that David Levithan has written a diverse book, but I still want to highlight some of the amazing representation in Two Boys Kissing. The focus of the story is on gay teen boys, of course, and among this group Levithan includes a transgender boy, delicately portraying how he experiences being both an insider and an outsider among his gay peers. The main cast also includes a beautiful and realistic array of races and ethnicities. The characters are male and female, old, middle-aged, and young, and of varying ideological positions. All of this variety allows the author to explore multiple intersectionalities and to demonstrate that looking at a person from the outside alone is actually not seeing them at all.

Finally, I have to talk about the title of this book. David Levithan is a strong force in the world of LGBTQ literature, in part because he doesn’t hide his writing behind ambiguous titles (his first book was called Boy Meets Boy). Two Boys Kissing raises the stakes even more while charmingly providing the briefest synopsis in the world. I love how straightforward it is because it sends the message to LGBT teens that their ideas of love, romance, and attraction are just as worthy of being in the spotlight as those of straight teens. How many books and movies have a picture of a heterosexual couple kissing or embracing on the front? Proudly covering the jacket of a book with the words and image of Two Boys Kissing normalizes it and adds one more check to the “you are valid” column. I also love that simply mentioning this book to friends at work means adding to the number of times that gay romance is casually–but non-metaphorically–acknowledged out loud.

Favorite line: “…he knows that the story is going to spread, and he hopes that maybe it’ll make people a little less scared of two boys kissing than they were before…”

Rating: 5/5

If I Stay by Gayle Forman 

2016-09-25-19.35.26.jpg.jpg(Photo by Carla Rennick)


Summary (from goodreads.com): In the blink of an eye everything changes. Seventeen year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall what happened afterwards, watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck. Little by little she struggles to put together the pieces- to figure out what she has lost, what she has left, and the very difficult choice she must make.

I always claim to be the kind of reader who prefers lighthearted escapist literature, but here I am following my review of Speak with the heartwrenching If I Stay. While I don’t often seek out emotional or angst-ridden novels, I’m discovering that they can be infused with a certain soul-expanding beauty that just cannot be found in other genres. Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, which I am probably the last of my circle of YA-obsessed acquaintances to read, is full of such beauty. What surprised me, however, is that it is not only the obvious, life-or-death scenes which bring the emotions so close to the surface. Honestly, I got more choked up over Mia’s love and devotion to classical music than I did over her relationship with Adam. And the combination of both? That really got to me. Forman uses Mia’s passions–her family, her best friend, her cello–to introduce the reader to Mia’s relationship with Adam and to amplify its emotional impact.

The other thing that really struck me is the fact that, even though the entire premise of the narrative–that a person could exist outside their comatose body and make the drawn-out decision to survive or not–could be seen as a spiritual or supernatural construct, Mia’s thoughts and memories are so solidly grounded in the living world that I have to consider this a realistic piece of fiction. Mia’s character, even in it’s in-between state, is too human to be called simply a “ghost” or a “soul.” The topics Forman manages to cover–from the day-to-day problem of feeling like an outsider among your peers and family to the painful topics of death and loss–are extremely relevant and relatable. I would definitely recommend this book to teens. Besides excellent prose and characterization, it offers the chance to consider some very intimidating issues within the safe environment of fiction.

Favorite line: “Then, in third grade, I’d wandered over to the cello in music class—it looked almost human to me. It looked like if you played it, it would tell you secrets, so I started playing.”

Rating: 5/5

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Image of the book Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson(Photo by Carla Rennick)


Summary (from goodreads.com): “Speak up for yourself–we want to know what you have to say.” From the first moment of her freshman year at Merryweather High, Melinda knows this is a big fat lie, part of the nonsense of high school. She is friendless, outcast, because she busted an end-of-summer party by calling the cops, so now nobody will talk to her, let alone listen to her.

I never thought I would be able to call a book about such a serious topic “a joy to read,” but that’s what this was. Melinda’s snarky commentary on the farce that is the public high school experience moved me to laughter over and over again. Anderson writes her protagonist with such strength and personality that–even as it becomes increasingly clear that something awful has happened to her, and even though her relationship with her parents becomes more and more tense–I forgot to feel sorry for her. She teeters on the edge of a depression and isolation that so many people–teenagers and adults–find overwhelming, but she is not crippled by it. Anderson’s supporting characters are just as well-crafted and captivating. Melinda’s parents, teachers, friends, and even her enemies, surprise Melinda and the reader with their humanity, their imperfections, and their growth. Finally, I really appreciated the symbolism and imagery throughout the book, literary tools used incredibly effectively even while the author pokes fun at the English class tradition of force-feeding interpretation to skeptical freshmen. Overall, I recommend this book to both teens and adults, even those who–like myself–tend to shy away from depictions of the more painful realities of life.

Favorite line: “[Maya Angelou] must be a great writer if the school board is afraid of her.”

Rating: 5/5