W O W
That’s the Executive Summary.
I read someone’s description of this book as ‘YA [young adult] stories of a few young gay kids told through the eyes of the spirits of gays past who watch over them‘. As so often happens, that description is both true and yet inaccurate. Or rather, incomplete.
Yes, this is the stories of seven young gay men, their families and neighbours. It is told through the eyes of gays past. The ‘living’ characters are in and around a couple of small towns that could be in any number of States. Their stories weave in and out; the author keeps the pace up by not breaking out chapters and it’s so well-written that transitions are not the least disruptive. The title refers to a pair of them that decide to break a world record for the longest kiss.
I suspect that the average YA reader will be most interested in the stories of the ‘living’ – certainly their stories of acceptance (or rejection) by family and friends is either their experience or their expectation. Hopeful, in a way we seem to assume most young folk should recognize. And without doubt their various stories tug at the heart strings of most any reader, of any age.
On the other hand, there are the stories of the spirits. Perhaps I was thinking they would be queer (or suspected queer) folk of centuries past. Pithy quotes from Oscar Wilde, life lessons from ancient Greece, even the introduction of virtually-unknown hero Willem Arondeus. But that would be a book written for my generation, if we’d had fiction that presented our stories.
This is a book for a new generation (a cliche and yet accurate). The spirits are of those who lived more recently. My contemporaries. People who died from aids. Rather, of complications of aids such as neglect, fear, hatred, bigotry….. The first dozen pages are pretty much dedicated to their stories. Not individual tales of suffering and neglect, although that will be shared over the following pages. The irony of a generation that collectively started to feel pride, or at least a lack of shame, and a desire to live:
“Just when we stopped wanting to kill ourselves, we started to die. Just when we were feeling strength it was taken from us” (page 4, hard cover edition).
Others have praised this book and recommend it for the YA audience. I defer to their expertise on that audience. I do highly recommend this book for my generation; the survivors. But, as I posted at 4am on Facebook, Do not read it until you’re ready to relive that time. The pain, sorrow, loss….so much sadness, so many memories – and yet it is anything but depressing.
The spirits ruminate, as they surely have the time for, on life: “every time two boys kiss it opens up the world a little bit more,” (page 10). And they recognize what change has occurred as they note that one boy will never have to come out because he will have never been kept in,” (page 70).
Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan, published by Alfred A Knopf, 2013 and available at Amazon in hard cover, paperback and Kindle eBook.