Review of TWO BOYS KISSING by DAVID LEVITHAN
(review based on an advance reading copy)
When I really like an author, I don’t even read the back of their newest book; I see their name and I start reading. I knew I would love a book by David Levithan, but I still underestimated how much.
The style threw me a little first. The story isn’t told in chapters, but in short snippets bouncing around between a handful of characters. Everything’s narrated by a plural first person voice observing all these goings-ons. However, it didn’t take long before I accepted the rhythm and then came to admire this approach. It’s not clear who the narrator is at first, but a suspicion becomes increasingly confirmed. It’s a wonderful way to tell this story and I particularly relished the omniscient viewpoint. The narrator gives us the power to see everything. After an awkward date, we see both people on either side of the door even though only one is a main character. When we learn about an atrocity strangers committed, the narrator tells us: “Two of them are haunted by what they did. Three of them are not.”
Before starting this book, I felt amused by title and cover, simply for the lack of subtly. However, as I started reading it became clear that’s exactly the point. While the book follows numerous boys, Craig and Harry become the focal point of the story. They want to break the world record for longest kiss. So the title’s not only a concise summary of this quilted novel’s centerpiece, but also captures Craig and Harry’s mindset behind their decision.
I had a little trepidation before starting this story that took me a while to pinpoint and I realized the cover and title played a role there as well. Sometimes I read books that lean on the subject matter. I want to read amazing stories with amazing characters. Taking the Holocaust as only one example, I have read a few Holocaust novels that I found…well, less than great. But people rave about them. In fact, I rarely don’t hear people rave about a Holocaust novel. Which makes me wonder if it’s the brilliance of the book or the emotional intensity of the subject matter. I finally realized that my hesitation regarding TWO BOYS KISSING had to do with a worry that the novel would lean on any emotional association with the struggles of gay boys and men rather than on a great story and wonderful characters. In retrospect, that concern was entirely groundless since David Levithan has never disappointed me.
In fact, TWO BOYS KISSING is an incredible story simply for the phenomenal characters. I wasn’t reading about A Gay Teenage Boy. I was reading about Craig and Harry and Tariq and Avery and Ryan and Cooper and, well, there are a lot of characters, but the point is that I came to care deeply about all of them. Craig and Harry’s kiss seemed more like a story hook at first, but soon had me at the edge of my seat with the same combination of pride and anxiety that all their friends and family felt.
Levithan’s also a master of short but sweet. I finished TWO BOYS KISSING and couldn’t help turning the book over in my hand, marveling that something so slim had me so entirely invested.
The book’s chockfull of wisdom and insight condensed into simple sentences. When reading, I occasionally come across a quote that I like so much I mark the page for later reference when I’m writing my review. Of course, this is rare, because I’m simply not much of a quote person. I can adore a book, but not have a single specific quote that lingers in my mind. Usually, when I do mark a book, it’s once: one quote. With TWO BOYS KISSING, I realized I was stuffing the book with so many post-its that I couldn’t list every quote that spoke to me, because it’s nearing on plagiarism by reprinting the whole book! Here’s merely one example, though: “Doubt is an acceptable risk for happiness.”
I know there’s no book in existence that everyone loves, so when I step back and examine all these quotes through fresh eyes, I can see that someone with different tastes might find them overly sentimental, but speaking for myself I loved them. I loved this book so much that I had to hold myself back in this review from using such gushing adjectives that people will suspect me of hyperbole or that I’ll raise their expectations so high that the book can’t compete. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go read everything else David Levithan has ever written.