Thursday, January 23, 2014

Wide Awake and Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan

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.


  1. I think I've read one book from Levithan, and thought it was okay. I haven't heard of these ones, but I hope to pick up another one of his books soon! So I might have to pick these ones up!


  2. I haven't read Wide Awake, although it's on my TBR list (like every Levithan book I haven't yet read, LOL!). I don't think I realized it was so different than his others, but your review has really intrigued me. Also yay for lesbian couples (especially since Levithan's books are pretty much known for their gay couples and relationships). That's really interesting that it was written 2 years before Obama was elected but he predicted how the country felt and reacted!!

    I read Love is the Higher Law last year and it kind of disappointed me. There were a few lines that I really liked, but it wandered too much for me and I didn't truly connect with the characters.

  3. He has plenty, so you have lots to choose from !

  4. Wide Awake has been on my TBR for 2 years until I finally decided to do this ! I feel like a lot of Levithan's first few novels have that "wandering" feel. His more recent stuff is a little bit different, I really liked Everyday and totally suggest that one.


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