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REVIEW:  Two Boys Kissing  by David Levithan

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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REVIEW: Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

REVIEW: Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller

Dear Ms. Doller,

Something Like Normal was one of my favourite books of 2012 (reviewed here by Jane and at my own blog), so I made grabby hands when Jane asked me if I wanted to review Where The Stars Still Shine, your newest release.  I love your writing style and the way you are able to portray authentic younger characters in a way that I can connect with.

The story is told from Callie’s first person (present tense) POV which is common in YA but I know is a deal breaker for some readers. It worked for me here.  The story is not bogged down in minutiae and there is a sense of discovery to the story which is fitting – the reader finds things out at the same time Callie does. It also feels vaguely claustrophobic which I felt was also appropriate because Callie is suspicious of others and quite insular.

“He seems nice.”

“He totally is.” Kat nods. “He’s super shy, but he really likes you.” I glance up and he’s staring at me again. It’s not predatory, the way he looks at me. Nor is it the same as the other night with Alex Kosta, when the air between us felt alive. Kat is wrong. Connor doesn’t know me so he can’t really like me. He likes looking at my face. He likes the shape of my body.

There is a difference.

I am a romance reawherethestarsstillshineder at heart so in any story, I tend to gravitate to the romance thread and the book’s success often depends for me, on how the romance works.  I think if one were to approach the book as a YA with a romantic element rather than as a romance (as I did – partly because the romance was strong in Something Like Normal and partly because that’s what I tend to do anyway) the book would work better. As it was, I liked it very much but the ending left me feeling unsatisfied.  There were many questions left unanswered for me, even though it was a hopeful (if somewhat vague) resolution.

To be fair, the blurb of the book doesn’t really promise a romance:

Stolen as a child from her large and loving family, and on the run with her mom for more than ten years, Callie has only the barest idea of what normal life might be like. She’s never had a home, never gone to school, and has gotten most of her meals from laundromat vending machines. Her dreams are haunted by memories she’d like to forget completely. But when Callie’s mom is finally arrested for kidnapping her, and Callie’s real dad whisks her back to what would have been her life, in a small town in Florida, Callie must find a way to leave the past behind. She must learn to be part of a family. And she must believe that love–even with someone who seems an improbable choice–is more than just a possibility.

Possibly a caveat is in order.  My review is based on my perspective as a romance reader, not a YA reader. I think YA readers, who maybe have different expectations of a book than I, will find the ending less problematic.  This is very much Callie’s story.  The book wraps up appropriately for Callie and I had only a few questions (did she get her GED?), the answers to which weren’t really crucial for me to know.  Most of the questions I had were about Callie’s romantic interest and his life and his arc.  The story gave me enough to be invested in him but unfortunately, I was not clear on some important things by the end.  While the romance had a kind of hopeful ending, it’s not the traditional arc most romance readers would want or expect.  In my defence, I think there’s enough in the book which leads a romance reader to expect a more definitive ending.  It is a very strong storyline, not unlike the relationship between Travis and Harper in Something Like Normal.  So I didn’t feel it was an unreasonable expectation on my part to have an ending which was more developed.  YMMV.

When Callie moves to Florida with her dad, she is surrounded by people who love her but don’t know her, by rich family history she doesn’t know or can’t remember, and she feels under tremendous pressure to be happy to be “home”.  But it’s not as easy as that.  The relationship between Callie and her mother is complicated.  Callie is very angry with her mother but, at the same time, Veronica has been the only constant in her life for 12 years.  Callie feels bereft without her mother and, mixed in with that is a deep sense of responsibility – her mother is mentally ill and Callie doesn’t think her mother will make it on her own.

Callie’s dad, Greg, is just about perfect and I liked him very much.  He tries very hard to be understanding and not pushy, to give Callie space but still include her as part of the family.  While the book is Callie’s there is a strong sense that Greg’s loss was profound, that he genuinely loves and wants relationship with his daughter. I liked the way you wrote Greg – from the small parts of his story, I felt I knew him well.   Phoebe, Greg’s wife, is presented in an understandable fashion.  She and Greg have two young sons – can Callie be trusted with them?  Is Callie unstable like her mother?  As the book progresses, I got the sense that eventually Callie and Phoebe would become friends but that Phoebe would never be a parent to her.

Unlike Callie’s mother, Greg is actually present for and interested in Callie.  He gives her boundaries, opportunities, a place to be safe and loved and, when she asks for his help he is there – 100% of the time – something which is entirely new in Callie’s experience.  As he continues to demonstrate his love for her, he moves in Callie’s heart and mind, from “Greg” to “dad”.  This does create a new dilemma however – it seems impossible for please both her mother and her father.  Her friend and cousin Kat suggests she decide purely based on what will make her (Callie) happy, which is a new and exciting concept.

Callie has never had friends or a boyfriend.  She and her mother have moved so often and so suddenly there wasn’t any time to build those kinds of relationships.   Faced with so much unknown in Florida, Callie turns to a familiar path – the hook up – for connection and, in a weird way, safety (the known being safe in this case).  Only here, she finds that after sex, the boy wants to talk to her as well and she doesn’t feel dirty and used and sad. She finds pleasure in sex in a guilt-free and healthy way.  For different reasons, both she and her young man are disconnected and they find connection and acceptance in each other.

“You probably think I’m the weirdest girl you’ve ever met.”

“I think . . . ” He rests his chin on top of my head and there’s a kind of security in the hollow of his neck. “ . . . that we all have stories we don’t tell. If you want to share it, you will. Or, you won’t.”

The setting of Tarpon Springs with its Greek affiliation and sponge diving was interesting and gave the book extra flavour which I appreciated.  The little bookshop featured in the story was my kind of place.  I could imagine myself hanging out there and making words with the couch cushions.

At its heart, I think it is a book about Callie finding home – a place where she belongs, is safe and can grow.  A place she hasn’t had since her mother kidnapped her when she was 5.  Looked at purely from that perspective, the book was a success and I’d give it a B.  However, as a romance, I really would have liked at least another chapter to round out that part of the storyline and buttress the HFN.  As beautiful as it was to read, the ending did let the book down for me and as a romance (which is how I read it) I give it a C+.

Regards,

Kaetrin

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