|Between 2013-2014 I attempt to read a large selection of David Levithan novels. See the full list here|
I'm reviewing these books together because they are both pretty short and deal with the theme of young people who become part of something bigger than themselves.
Wide Awake by David Levithan (2006)
"The question became: What are you willing to do for something you believe in ?"
- David Levithan, Wide Awake
Up to this point in my Days of David Levithan reading, I have found Wide Awake to be Levithan's most "high concept" novel. He imagines a near future where America has just elected Abraham Stein; the first gay Jewish president.
When the news is announced 16-year-old Duncan is beaming, because even though he couldn't vote he and his friends worked 2 years for this moment. Everything begins to unravel when a governor in Kansas challenges the electoral vote. Now Duncan along with millions of Stein's supporters journey to Kansas and take a stand for what they believe in.
If you thought the dreamy world of Boy Meets Boy was improbable, this one is even more so. In this novel, Levithan has gone as far as to fabricate an entire alternate history. This turned into a lot of info dump at the beginning which was a little overwhelming and I had to read multiple times to understand completely.
With any Levithan novel, there is going to be a romantic plot and Wide Awake has them in various forms. You have our protagonist, Duncan, who feels like he is drifting from his boyfriend Jimmy who doesn't think Duncan is committed enough to the cause. There is also a substantial subplot with a lesbian couple on the campaign, which I thought was interesting because that is the kind of thing you rarely see in YA literature.
The odd thing is this book reads eerily reads like the 2008 election of Barack Obama as the first Black president. Even though this book was published two years before the election Levithan seems to have predicted the kinds of feeling and emotions of having a minority in the White House. In the book Duncan muses that:
"Once you knew there were enough people out there to vote for a Jew for president, you couldn't help but feel like anything was possible."
This line reminded me about how people talked about the feeling of being on the precipice of change when Obama was elected. Not to mention how like the characters in this book, during the Obama campaign droves of young people came out in support.
This novel isn't perfect; Duncan felt like a blank slate as a protagonist, there is a fair share of strawmen for the opposing side and all of the infodumping took me out the story. Still, Wide Awake is a dynamic novel that has a lot of interesting ideas. It teaches an important and powerful lesson about learning to fight what you believe in. - ★★★ + .5
Love is The Higher Law by David Levithan (2009)
"....As U2 tears through the anthems--there's something in that word, anthem--we rise up to meet the music. We're not just a crowd. We're not just a gathering. We're a congregation."
- David Levithan, Love is The Higher Love
This novel follows three young adults living New York City on September 11, 2001 and how the tragedy touched and intermingled their lives. I'm not sure if there are many YA books out there about 9/11, but this one was a first for me.
Claire is a high school student and probably has the most common experience. She is in school when the teachers start to get nervous and announce to the class a twin tower has fallen. College sophomore Jasper sleeps through it in his parent's Park Slope house and then there is Peter, who watches the tower fall while standing outside of Tower Records.
The stories told in this one are more so wandering than any of Levithan's other novels, there is no finite plot or motivation. But I think this style works really well in this story. You could read just one person's story if you wanted to. What really stuck with me were the moments they experienced that I think only people who were living in New York City at the time can witness to.
There is a scene where lazy college student Jasper goes outside in Brooklyn and sees office paperwork that blew from the World Trade Center and says how seeing pieces of paper brought "a naked clarity" to him. Clare also has a really great scene where she walks by a memorial in Union Square Park and helps a woman relight all the candles that have blown out because of rain and she says:
"...even though the light we make doesn't change what's happened. We are making our own temporary constellation, and it doesn't spell a single thing."
Peter relates a lot of the world through music and uses that as a way for him to heal and not feel powerless. At one point, he and Clare go to a U2 concert, and U2's song "One" also features the lyric that the book title is from.
What this book explores really well is how people coped with an event they could not make sense of. What I find interesting is how the characters don't directly know anyone in the buildings or anyone who died, but they are still feeling it and trying to figure out how grieve in their own way. I think he got that feeling of that day and the proceeding days down perfectly. - ★★★★
- Both novels prominently feature characters of color, Jimmy and Keisha in Wide Awake are mixed race and black, respectively. Jasper in Love is the Higher Law is Korean.
- I found the character of Duncan in Wide Awake to be a lot like Nick in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, both seem to be blank slates.
- Gus in Wide Awake is a little bit like Tiny Cooper in Will Grayson, Will Grayson in that they are both flamboyant serial daters who get new boyfriends every few pages.