Every Day, by David Levithan

Every DayIt may not surprise you to learn that as a child I loved me a show called Quantum Leap. Scott Bakula, wacky person-in-a-different-body hijinks… to my elementary-school self, it was the greatest. Today you could not pay me to watch an episode as it can only have aged poorly, but I will cherish my childhood-tinged memories forever.

So of course I was intrigued by the premise of this book, in which a 16-year-old kid (entity? being?) we’ll call A wakes up every morning in a different body — always has and presumably always will. This is life for A, and A is more or less happy to put up with it, until the day A falls in love with Rhiannon, the girlfriend of A’s current body. A can’t get Rhiannon out of their head and breaks all of the rules they’ve made for themself to try to make a relationship with Rhiannon work.

I found this book incredibly interesting at its premise — it does a really good job making you think about identity (gender, most obviously, but other forms of identity as well) and how it is all completely constructed by ourselves and the people around us and how uncomfortable other people are when these constructions are challenged. There’s also some intriguing talk (spoilers? ish?) about how A exists and what happens to the people in the bodies A briefly inhabits and what would happen if A never left.

But that romance plotline? Ehhhhhhh. I was more or less okay with it when I read the book, as I was focused more on the stuff noted above, but as I talked about it with my book group I started to like it less and less. It’s a weird and creepy relationship that is hugely selfish and places Rhiannon in an impossible situation and potentially hurts many other people in the process and it’s just, again, weird and creepy. Full disclosure, though, one book-club-mate found it super incredibly romantic, so it’s possible that if you are or are temporarily inhabited by a 16-year-old you will feel the same way?

Other book-clubbers had issues with an odd B-plot storyline wherein a kid and later a pastor become obsessed with A and it leads to some half-formed revelations about A’s existence and possibilities that would have needed their own entire book to become fully formed. I didn’t mind that we didn’t get any closure on some of those things, but it was definitely a bone of contention at book club.

There’s a companion novel to this, called Another Day, that tells the same story from Rhiannon’s point of view, and I’m kind of interested to see if her side of the story helps fill in some of the weird blanks left in A’s story but I’m worried it will just make those gaps even larger. I don’t know. I’m pretty content leaving this story where it left itself, and moving on to better things.

Recommendation: For anyone who thrives on improbable romance stories, slightly less for anyone who is interested in one author’s take on identity politics.

Weekend Shorts: Tiny Cooper and Terry Pratchett

Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story, by David Levithan
Hold Me CloserTrue story: I almost didn’t read the adorable and wonderful Will Grayson, Will Grayson, because I didn’t want to deal with Tiny Cooper. And yet, when I saw this ridiculously shiny book coming out earlier this year, I was like, yeeeeeah I’m totally going to read that.

Hold Me Closer is, I guess, Tiny’s draft of the big gay musical he puts on during Will Grayson, Will Grayson, with all the songs and talking but also little notes about how Tiny sees particular scenes going and jabs at Will’s love life. The musical itself is great and pretty realistic for a teenager’s first musical — the songs are obviously not professionally written but are pretty darn good, and the content is infused with that hopefulness that teenagers have in spades.

And Tiny is a wonderful character, full of self-confidence and self-doubt alike as he navigates his childhood and the wonders of dating and friendships and family life as you get older. Even if you are not a large gay teenager, you will still relate to a lot of the ideas of this book.

I’m not sure if you could get away with reading just this and not Will Grayson, Will Grayson, but you should read the original book anyway so why not do both?

A Slip of the Keyboard, by Terry Pratchett
A Slip of the KeyboardAnother true story: It took me five whole months to get through this book. To be fair, I started off reading one short essay per day, and then kind of completely forgot about the whole thing, and then came back to it and read it much more quickly. I think you can read it either way — slowly parceled out or in huge gulps — and still have a fine time with Sir Terry.

This was kind of a weird book for me to have picked up, really, as I’ve only read three of Pratchett’s books, all fiction, and this is a book of non-fiction essays whose only commonality is that Pratchett wrote them. So there are essays about books and reading and fantasy and science fiction and all those great things, but there are also introductions to books I know nothing about and asides about books of Pratchett’s I’ve not read yet and essays about weird Christmas things and nuclear power plants and stuff. I feel like I probably needed at least five more of Pratchett’s books under my belt before attempting this.

But it was still pretty darn good! And the reason I blazed through it at the end is that I got to the section where Pratchett rants about Alzheimer’s and how it’s a terrible thing, and you need not have any of his books in your house to agree with that sentiment. You may not agree with his stance on assisted death, on the other hand, but in these essays he’s clearly done his research and it’s fascinating to see the various opinions in this debate.

All in all I would definitely recommend this more to Pratchett mega-fans, but even if you’re not you’ll make it through all right.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan

Okay, so. We already know that I adore John Green. I laughed and cried through Looking for Alaska, I was delightfully baffled by An Abundance of Katherines and his story in Let it Snow, and Paper Towns had me itching for a road trip.

And then Will Grayson, Will Grayson came out, like, heading toward a YEAR ago, and I didn’t read it. I said, “Oh, I should pick that up,” but I didn’t. Partly it came out right before my YA class so those books took precedence, partly I was worried that I wouldn’t like the co-written aspect of the book, but mostly, I was afraid of Tiny Cooper.

See, almost every review I saw of Will Grayson, Will Grayson mentioned this same bit that’s right in the beginning of the book: “Tiny Cooper is not the world’s gayest person, and he is not the world’s largest person, but I believe he may be the world’s largest person who is really, really gay, and also the world’s gayest person who is really, really large.” And I have to give kudos to the awesomeness of the writing there, BUT.

I know Tiny Cooper. I know SEVERAL Tiny Coopers. I have had my fill of Tiny Cooper, he gets annoying after a while. I did not want to have to deal with Tiny Cooper ever again. So I did not pick up this book.

BUT then, I was on the internet and I was reminded of National Alaska Young Day (which is spoilery if you haven’t read the book), and I was like, hey, maybe I should re-read Looking for Alaska on NAYD, but I was also at the library and they had a copy of Will Grayson, Will Grayson and so I said, “FINE, fate. I will read this darn book.”

And I did. And I LOVED IT. I seriously have not cackled gleefully so many times in such a short span of time, and the book was just perfect and wonderful and definitely what I needed after a holiday season devoid of awesome books.

So forget Tiny Cooper. He’s there, certainly, and he’s large and homosexual and he has written a large homosexual musical that is all about him and how large and homosexual he is, really. But the book is really actually about the Will Graysons, of which there are two and of which one does not use capitals often and is more accurately a will grayson. Will Grayson is your average high school kid, only slightly more neurotic; will grayson is your average high school kid, only slightly more depressed. Will is actively avoiding relationships, will is in a wonderful online relationship that is about to go all IRL. Neither of these goes quite the way either of them planned it, of course, because that’s how life is, and their random meeting at a porn store in Chicago (yes, really) makes things go even slightly crazier.

And so the book is of course about relationships in the romantic sense, but it is also very much about friendships, whether between people who like each other or hate each other or like like each other or tolerate each other. And it’s about how those relationships change when circumstances change, and how two people can see the exact same event and interpret it completely differently. And it’s also about honesty and how it’s an excellent thing when used at the right time and not put off too long, which is the main reason that I want to get everyone I know to read this book.

Also, Tiny Cooper is highly amusing, probably largely (hah) because I don’t have to be friends with him. Or pick his nose.

So basically, yes, I still love John Green, and also I may need to go out and get David Levithan’s entire backlist because he shares much of Green’s writing sensibility, at least in this book. And I know it’s premature, but this may be a contender for Best Book I Will Read All Year. True story.

Recommendation: For those who love John Green, and David Levithan, and any of the similar YA writers who are wonderfully sarcastic and biting and amusing but also very spot on about everything.

Rating: 10/10
(A to Z Challenge)