Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Book Review: Are We There Yet ? by David Levithan

Join Kat as she reads and reviews the works of David Levithan
from his debut novel to his National Book Award shortlisted novel, Two Boys Kissing. See more here !

"Do you wander why we wander ?"
- David Levithan, Are We There Yet ?

  • Release Date: July 12th 2005
  • Publisher: Knopf
  • Genre: Contemporary
  • Pages: 215
Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Elijah is completely mellow and his 23-year-old brother Danny is completely not, so it’s no wonder they can barely tolerate one another. So what better way to repair their broken relationship than to trick them into taking a trip to Italy together? 

For now I am skipping David Levithan’s sophomore novel, The Realm of Possibility, and jumping to his third novel Are We There Yet ? his second novel to be written in traditional prose.

The Silver Brothers couldn't be more different. 23-year-old Danny Silver is a rising star in the New York City marketing game and recently “taken under the wingtips” of his bosses; 17-year-old Elijah Silver is often accused of being too nice, smokes weed and spends his summers “hanging out” at his boarding school.

When their mother convinces the brothers to go on a 9 day trip to Italy , neither one of them is excited. With their current conversations consisting of one word responses they’re not sure they’ll make it. But as they wander through Italy's most iconic cities they discover more about themselves and in turn each other.

This novel has an interesting narrative structure, it’s told in a omniscient third person that switches from Danny to Elijah. At first I found the narrative off putting and made the story feel distant, but the more I read the more I began to really like it. I've been reading more of Levithan's books and this is still the only novel of his I've come across written in third person.

I think more so this novel is Levithan's tribute to his own trip to Italy. I felt like I could easily visualize the places in the novel and the end had me wanting to hop on a plane and see them all for myself. There are some really interesting observations about tourism, discovery and how we experience foreign countries.

One of the things the brothers do come together on is their Jewish heritage. The brothers visit Jewish Synagogues and ghettos in nearly every city. This was a learning experience for me because I wasn't too familiar with Jewish culture in Italy and it is haunting. In Venice, Danny observes that:

"...eight thousand Italian Jews were sent to concentration camps during the Holocaust. Only eight of them returned to Venice. This is the fact to which Danny attached himself. If the ghetto itself is the bell, this fact is the toll"

This novel has a quieter tone and is grounded more in reality than Boy Meets Boy. It's also a much smaller story, the only central characters are Danny and Elijah While there is a small romance that shakes things up a bit, this novel is not very plot heavy. Much of it relies on observation and vignette-like memories. I could put the book down and pick it up without having to flip back to catch myself up,

And once again Levithan keeps it short. This book is structured in a way where every now and then a page will just have one paragraph or sentence on it making it shorter than it's 215 pages.

Are We There Yet ? reads as a love letter to Italy wrapped around the relationship of two very different brothers. This is an excellent YA with a lot of crossover appeal to people in their early twenties.

  • There is a reference to the children's novel From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (I have a VERY vivid memory of reading this in elementary school by the way) , which I know comes up in another Levithan novel
  • Judging by my Googling for Levithan's ethnicity (he is Jewish) it looks like the question of Jewish Identity will come up in his book Wide Awake

  • Klezmer music will come up in another one of his novels

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