Friday, October 23, 2015

EVERY DAY


Review of EVERY DAY by DAVID LEVITHAN

Every day A wakes up in a different person’s body. A took this simple name for themself, because they have no consistent name, physique, friends, family, gender, life. Every day A is someone new. In fact, A (unintentionally) borrows another person’s body for the day. A is considerate about the fact that it’s not their life. Every single day is a day stolen from someone else, so it’s never a day for A to do whatever they want. Then A meets Rhiannon, someone they want to see the next day and the day after that, someone with whom A hopes they could form a long-lasting relationship rather than the millions of single-day parents and best friends A has known.

As a writer myself, I found the premise utterly fascinating. The concept explodes with questions and I recognize what a challenge it would be to write something like this. I already loved Levithan’s work, but I admire him for tackling such a brave notion.

Amazingly, A does have a distinct personality despite no single body. Dry wit. Observant. Unusually mature for their age, but expected for their circumstances. A has mastered the quick assessment of a person. While A can access their current body’s memories, it’s not an easy, immediate task, so A often works from cues. They know how to summarize their temporary family and friends and look for signs that anyone expects something from A (or rather from whomever A’s residing in that day).

As always I found Levithan’s writing beautiful and popping with plenty of sharp insights that resonate with me enough to bookmark. I nodded along with A’s breakdown of kindness vs. niceness. A believes niceness is superficial, an indication more of how you want to be perceived, while kindness is unselfish and sincere, a genuine reflection of your character. I also know I’m not the only one to pull out the following quote as exemplary: “Love can’t conquer anything...It relies on us to do the conquering on its behalf.”

The nature of the magic system raises countless discussion questions about identity. A isn’t tied to specific friends. Even if they like certain kinds of people more than others, they likely won’t see them the next day. A has not had a typical childhood. In fact, A has been molded more by society overall than any one particular household. A doesn’t have hobbies or much opportunity to hone a specific skill. A views gender more fluidly than your average teen since they’re often in a girl’s body one day and a boy’s the next. A views themself in emotional and intellectual terms rather than physical. And identity is only one category of questions. Then consider the ethics. A has no control over this body swapping, but they still feel like an imposter and a life thief. A lives so carefully as not to interrupt a person’s life, but then rarely lives for themself. A constantly considers how actions in a single day could affect the next day, week, month, year, lifetime for the person who will take their life back in 24 hours. A battles with unanswered questions about what they are and whether any amount of deliberate effort can ever outweigh their accidental body snatching.

One of my few criticisms in an otherwise fantastic novel is that I didn’t understand what was so special about A’s love interest Rhiannon. As A mentions repeatedly, they have seen so many people in their lifetime. Rhiannon didn’t strike me as unique enough for me to believe A has never met anyone like her. Her special qualities were usually told and rarely shown. Upon first sight, A thinks she’s different, special enough to jeopardize the whole system A has worked out for laying low, but I never followed the logic or emotional reaction about why A admires Rhiannon so much. Nothing against her. She’s a strong character, but I don’t think she’s one of a kind and I don’t buy that A has never met someone like her before. 

I read this entire book awing at the ambitious scope and wondering how the author would begin to end something this complicated. The good news is that EVERY DAY is a terrific book, but the bad is that its scale makes it difficult to find a satisfying ending. The story feels like it cuts off as it’s only really picking up and one primary resolution felt, for me, sweet but forced.  I finished the book with a combination of lingering respect and unsettled questions.

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