Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Review: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Release date: August 27th, 2013
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Series: No
Source: Purchased
Rating: Gorgeous, moving, poignant, and inspiring.


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.

While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.

"Things are not magical because they've been conjured for us by some outside force. they are magical because we create them, and then deem them so."

I know I start a lot of reviews saying this, but I have no idea how to review this. Normally I break books down, discussing their plots, pacing, language, and characters. But Two Boys Kissing isn't like other books. It's 195 pages of emotion, wistfulness, hope, despair, history, and future. It's a triumph of spirit, identity and love. It depicts a kind of hate so cruel and bone-deep that I actually felt sick at times. It's a book that should be read by everyone, but won't be.

 "Every time two boys kiss, it opens up the world a little bit more."

The novel is framed by the story of Harry and Craig, teenage ex-boyfriends who decide to break the world record for longest continuous kiss. We also meet Neil and Peter, who have been dating for a year and are the cutest couple I've ever read about, Avery and Ryan, who just met but are already starting something great, and Cooper, who is utterly alone. We meet parents who are supportive, parents who are disapproving, parents who are hateful, parents who are confused. We meet friends and siblings who rally fiercely to support those they love and their freedom to love who they want.

I love that I live in a world where this novel exists.

While we do enter each boy's head, Two Boys Kissing is narrated by a collective "we"-- by, according to the synopsis,  "a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS." I've only read one novel that was told in first person plural, and that was The Virgin Suicides, which lent the book a creepy, voyeuristic edge, of the outside looking in. But this book would not be nearly as moving if it weren't told by the lost generation of gay men. Honestly, I read so much of this book with my hand clasped to my heart. The dead observe the living boys, who go about their daily lives as gay teens in ways that the dead never could have done in their day. They want so much more for the living boys than they had, and there's a longing for Cooper and Neil and Craig and the others to see how worthy and special they are, even in the face of hell. And it's wonder that the world has changed so much in so little time, and it's pain that there's the world still has so much changing to do.

"His gratitude is a rare thing--it is much more likely for a boy to feel thankful for the Diet Dr. Pepper than he is to feel thankful for being healthy and alive, for being able to walk to his boyfriend's house at age fifteen without any doubt that this is the right thing to do."

The writing is stunning (if only slightly overblown at times), but most of all, it's true. We get to witness the boys grapple with who they are, what they want, and whether they will be accepted. Harry and Craig must do all this while kissing for hours on end, still standing, with a watching crowd, news cameras, and a live stream that's gone viral. Avery, a pink-haired, transgender boy, must learn to be comfortable in his own body and with this blue-haired boy he might grow to love. We don't sink as deeply into each character's head as we might have if this story had been told in a more traditional way, but honestly, that may be part of the point. (And truth be told, I couldn't bear to go any deeper into Cooper's. Cooper's story is by far the ugliest, most difficult, and most common story, and it shattered my heart.) The point is that every boy in this novel represents thousands of boys in America, around the world. Thousands of girls, too, and kids who don't know what they, or kids who know what they are, but its not what anyone else understands.

"We wish we could show you the world as it sleeps. Then you'd never have any doubt about how similar, how trusting, how astounding and vulnerable we all are."

I am not a gay man (obviously). I am not a gay girl. These experiences are not my experiences, and the pain and sadness I feel reading this book is not empathy, but sympathy. This book isn't only for people who identify as queer, but what I love about it is that it was written for them. They are who the Greek chorus is talking to, when so few books or movies or TV shows do. This book makes me proud to say that I'm one of the people who stood and cheered Harry and Craig as they kissed, and that I am not one of the people who yelled names at Avery and Ryan, or who inspires soul-sucking, agonizing fear in Tariq. I hope it manages to show people who are unsure of where they stand that humans are humans and love is love, and that the blanket condemnation of a swath of humanity feels like a personal punch in the gut to one boy. And I hope that, if you are one of the people the Greek Chorus is watching over, that you let their words affect you and help you.

You may think this "review" is as preachy as the book, and in a way, you'd be right. I am preaching to you. David Levithan is preaching to the reader. I am not usually one for books intended to be a political message, but this isn't political. Humanity, decency, love, and tolerance aren't political, and this book is glorious, both emotionally and objectively. The writing is stellar, the way the scale of the world-record kiss grows is exciting, and the Levithan's words have lodged themselves very deeply in my heart.

"You should all live to meet your future selves."


Note: if comments get ugly in any way, I will unceremoniously delete you. From the face of the earth.


  1. I really need to read this book if only to cry and have my heart broken and get the sense of hope that at some point humankind will stop treating part of themselves as less or inferior or wrong for no reason whatsoever.

    I can't understand why people think there's the issue of gay marriage or other laws being passed, how can we debate that of us can't have the same rights than the rest just because you think you have some issue with who they love? How can we think that is okay at any point?

    I'm not gay but I'm a big supported of human rights for everyone equally, and there's not a bigger essential right than being able to love who you would without anyone judging you about it!

  2. I confess I probably would have passed this by because I'm not the biggest fan of David Leviathan so he's not on my auto buy list but wow this book sounds amazing. I just watched the documentary "We were here" (It's on Netflix) about the Aids breakout and crisis for the Gay Men community in particular in the late 80's in San Fran and it broke me, it was just...oh god I'm tearing up just thinking about it! Anyway this book sounds so very special and you have me aching to read it and dammit I'm crying already just thinking about it! Awesome review Gillian

  3. Aw, love your review. <3 probably won't read this book, because I'm not sure if the plot is for me :p though I love that it is about two boys :D Sounds sweet. Glad you loved it <3

  4. "Humanity, decency, love, and tolerance aren't political..." You nailed it, Gillian, and this is EXACTLY why I can't wait to read this one. Levithan's exquisite writing, his lyrical prose and emotionally compelling stories are what landed him on my auto-buy list in the first place. I LOVE how with each and every new story he's able to present it in a different way, to think outside the box. And that's also what I love so much about him... is that in every story of his, he challenges the reader to think outside the box. His books have changed my life and you're absolutely right, this is one of those stories that ANYONE and EVERYONE should read, even though they probably won't. I can only imagine how hard I'll be pushing this book, just like I did with Every Day. Beautiful. Simple. Human. That's what he's all about.

  5. Reading your review actually caused me to tear up and made me utterly DESPERATE to get my hands on this book. There needs to be more books like this. I'll definitely be buying it soon.

  6. GILLLLLLLIAN. I love this review so much. Thank you for posting it, girl. I was a little afraid of how the Greek chorus would be done, like would it make the book hard to read, etc. I'm relieved and happy you liked this one. Reading your review made me teary! Must get my hands on this one.

    Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

  7. Such a beautiful review! I've been wanting to read this book since I first learned about it and now I want to read it even more! Thanks for sharing this.

  8. Hahaha, it is true. Many books are tricky to review, especially twisty ones. *kicks All Our Yesterdays*

    I love love loved how Levithan showed a whole gamut of experiences. Yes, it's done in a pretentious way, but it needed to be done. Also, let's get more boys kissing. OPEN UP, WORLD!


    Haha, I'm not usually for preachy books either, but I'll make an exception for lgbt issues, because this is one of those things where I may have trouble being friends with you if you don't share my opinions on gay rights because seriously. Just UGH to those people.


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