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REVIEW: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

In his follow-up to the New York Times bestselling Every Day, David Levithan, co-author of bestsellers Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, 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.

Review:

Dear David Levithan,

In the author’s note at the end of this novel you say the following:

“On September 18, 2010, college students Matty Daley and Bobby Canciello kissed for thirty-two hours, thirty minutes, and forty-seven seconds (longer than the characters in this book) to break the Guinness World Record for longest continuous kiss. I am just one of many people who were inspired by what they did”.

The story was inspired by what they did.”

cover2This was an unusual book. The narration in this book is by a chorus of gay men who died from AIDS watching the gay teenagers of today’s generation. They worry about these kids, they reminisce about their own past and their best and worst moments, and they hope that these kids, these teens will pull through and have better lives.
The main focus of this book is a record-breaking kiss that high school students Harry and Craig are planning which serves as a spotlight for several other couples; one is just starting a relationship and one may be on the verge of the possible break up. And there is also more somber storyline about a teenager who is on the verge of possible suicide

This is definitely a book with a message, a very loud and very unapologetic message. One reviewer at Amazon basically called this book preachy, but added that because this is a message she supports, she did not care. I am pretty much in agreement with her, but at the same time I am not sure if the word “preachy” is the right one for me. It does have a message, a very simple, obvious one – that every gay kid, gay teen and gay man is deserving of love – and this is a message that I of course also support. But the book also tells a story, so I am conflicted about the word “preachy”. It moralizes for sure, but in such beautiful and moving language that I really loved it.

The story also made me choke up several times, but here reader reactions may differ. This is a book where I highly recommend getting a sample first. I am saying this as a reader who does not read many samples, but if the style does not work for you, you may have more of an issue more than with other plottier books. Here are some examples for you which in my opinions are very indicative of the tone in the book.

“So many of us had to make our own families. So many of us had to pretend when we were home. So many of us had to leave. But every single of us wishes we hadn’t have to. Every single one of us wishes our family had acted like our family, that even when we found a new family, we hadn’t have to leave the other one behind. Every single one of us would have loved to be loved unconditionally by our parents.

Don’t make him leave you, we want to tell Mrs. Kim. He doesn’t want to leave you”

“Eventually Harry will leave Craig curled on the couch. He will tuck Graig in, then tiptoe back to his own room. They will be in a separate places, but they will have very similar dreams.

We miss the sensation of being tucked in, just as we miss the sensation of being that hovering angel, pulling the blanket over his shoulders, wishing him a sweet night. Those are the beds we want to remember.”

There is really not much that happens, plotwise and most of the characters while sympathetic and likeable, are not very fleshed out. But I do not think this was the point of the book. Was the point to portray a connection between the generations , using both the similarities and differences and to issue a cry out that everybody deserves of love and that every boy or man deserves to live his life as he was destined to and not to feel such hopeless despair as to want to end his life?

I cannot be sure, but as I said, while the message of this book was pretty obvious, it worked for me.

I think if the author wanted to write the love story of any of the couples in this book in more details, I would buy that book in a heart-beat. I especially would have loved to see where the story of Ryan and Avery would take them. Avery was a transgender gay teen, and I appreciated the author including the transgender character in the book. He just seemed like a character with such an awesome potential and he had great chemistry with Ryan. That was another amazing thing about this book – all the couples showed great chemistry which I do not see that often in the many m/m romances I have read.
I guess I also have to admit that I felt a little uncomfortable because even though the author insists in the note at the end that the characters are not similar to the boys who beat the kissing record in real life, he also talks about talking to one of the boys about what it was like during the time of their kiss and I started to wonder just how much fiction and reality was mixed up together in this one. Of course writers are always inspired by real life events and people, but I think to a certain degree this fictional book read like a non-fiction to me.

Grade B.

~Sirius

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Sirius

Sirius started reading books when she was four and reading and discussing books is still her favorite hobby. One of her very favorite gay romances is Tamara Allen’s Whistling in the Dark. In fact, she loves every book written by Tamara Allen. Amongst her other favorite romance writers are Ginn Hale, Nicole Kimberling, Josephine Myles, Taylor V. Donovan and many others. Sirius’ other favorite genres are scifi, mystery and Russian classics. Sirius also loves travelling, watching movies and long slow walks.

10 Comments

  1. cleo
    Oct 10, 2013 @ 11:59:48

    I remember the hype when the cover was revealed – I didn’t realize it was out yet. Thanks for the review.

    Is this YA? I assumed it was because that’s what David Leviathan writes, it sounds like the main characters are YA aged, but it kind of sounds like it might be aimed at an older audience (not that it matters to me – since I’m in my 40s, just curious).

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  2. Patricia Eimer
    Oct 10, 2013 @ 12:03:42

    This sounds good but I think you’re right I’m going to try the sample. Usually disjointed storytelling isn’t for me.

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  3. Darlynne
    Oct 10, 2013 @ 12:04:18

    Gees, I couldn’t even read the excerpt you provided without having to wipe tears from my eyes. Beautiful and completely heart-breaking.

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  4. Sirius
    Oct 10, 2013 @ 12:07:43

    @cleo: Right, see, it seemed to be marketing at YA, and I think the publisher is YA division of Random House, but I hesitated to tag it as YA. I was really wondering if YA readers will be interested, as I said it worked for me, but I am in the older readers category too.

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  5. Sirius
    Oct 10, 2013 @ 12:08:43

    @Patricia Eimer: I cannot stress the suggestion to try the sample strongly enough for this one – for me it worked, but this is definitely the book where I can see the style not working for some (or many) readers.

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  6. Sirius
    Oct 10, 2013 @ 12:10:51

    @Darlynne: I think there is a good chance you may like the book then :). A lot of the story is written this way – I found it beautiful and heart breaking too, but also hopeful.

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  7. Sunita
    Oct 10, 2013 @ 12:55:57

    Great review, Sirius. This book didn’t work for me at all, although I can totally see it working for other readers; it’s a taste issue, not a quality one. I really liked the Greek chorus at first, because their voices resonated so much with my own experience, but after a while they became repetitive and intrusive, which surprised me. I think I wanted more from the living characters, and more in their voices. Even when their stories were being told, I felt as if I was getting them through someone else’s perspective, and I found that distancing. That said, it’s a powerful way of telling these stories, and as Sirius says, if the sample grabs you, go for it.

    This book has definitely been marketed and accepted as YA; it’s on short and/or long lists for several awards in that category, including the National Book Award. But I do wonder how well it will work for teenagers, unless they are consciously interested in knowing more about an earlier generation and reading through that generation’s eyes.

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  8. Sirius
    Oct 10, 2013 @ 22:53:46

    Sunita I can definitely see your point as to why it did not work for you, but for me the whole book was just so poignant. I definitely agree that I wanted more about living characters, but maybe it worked for me because my heart ached for the dead who were so mercilessly wiped out by the disease just as much as I wanted for the living boys to have a good life? I don’t know – I definitely was frustrated when I was writing the review because I felt like I could not grasp the essence of the book I guess, but reading experience for the most part worked fine for me.

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  9. Andrew Landis
    Dec 04, 2013 @ 16:22:20

    I think your review is spot on. Not a whole lot happens, but I did find myself emotionally attached to the characters. For me, the disjointed storytelling took a while to adjust to, and at times I wished he would’ve stay longer in certain scenes and stories rather than hear the Greek chorus. Also, I felt the same unease when I learned about the real two boys who kissed and the author’s interaction with one of them. I know writers take inspiration from real events all the time, but for something so specific? I felt a little letdown at the end. Lastly, I still enjoyed the book because I grew up in the generation between the older men and young kids now so I feel a certain comfort in seeing how things were and how things are (hopeful) today.

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  10. Sirius
    Dec 04, 2013 @ 22:36:09

    @Andrew Landis: Thank you, it looks like we had similar reactions to this book :).

    ReplyReply

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