Sunday, March 12, 2017

Every Day by David Levithan

This is what love does: It makes you want to rewrite the world. It makes you want to choose the characters, build the scenery, guide the plot. The person you love sits across from you, and you want to do everything in your power to make it possible, endlessly possible. And when it's just the two of you, alone in a room, you can pretend that this is how it is, this is how it will be. 
It's hard to imagine the premise of David Levithan's Every Day working over the course of an entire novel. A, the main character, wakes up in a new body each morning. This has been happening every day since A was born, and the only continuity seems to be age and geographical location: the host bodies are roughly the same age as A, and are scattered in roughly the same area. Over the course of the forty days covered in the novel, A runs the gamut of genders, sexual identities, races, ethnicities, and every other variation possible. A doesn't seem to associate with a particular gender or sexuality (which is one of the more interesting undercurrents of the novel), so I'll refer to A as "they" throughout this review for lack of a better pronoun.

This is, on the surface, your average YA love story. On day one of the book (and day 5994 of A's life), A falls in love with Rhiannon, and the novel tracks their efforts to find her again and win her over (while each day inhabiting a newly problematic body). There is teenage angst (in more iterations than normal), loneliness (made sharper by A's daily abandonment of families and friends), and improbable connection. Levithan is able to touch on more layers of each of these components by incorporating a huge range of characters as hosts. He touches on transgender identity, drug addiction, poverty, mourning, LGBTQ sexuality, friendships, loving siblings, abusive siblings, present and absent parents, but each get only a chapter. Within those individual chapters, the hosts' identities and issues are a backdrop for A's own identity and issues, so even serious complications are given only a nod. While this obviously leans towards heavily towards the "breadth" end of the breadth vs. depth spectrum, the sheer volume of characters Levithan is able to move through do give a new feel of universality to the teenage experience, one that could feel forced but somehow doesn't. It's peppered with typical YA ruminations that seem to have more depth because they come from A's massive breadth of experience:
If there's one thing I've learned, it's this: We all want everything to be okay. We don't even wish so much for fantastic or marvelous or outstanding. We will happily settle for okay, because most of the time, okay is enough.
One of the more interesting components was which parts of the hosts' brains A had easy access to, and which were buried more deeply. A brings with them knowledge and information (the plot of Romeo and Juliet, an impressive ability to read other people, how to play soccer), but is missing others (how to speak or understand fluent Spanish, how to ski...). A is able to reach pieces of his hosts' lives like how to drive to school, or the names of friends and siblings, but often can't access information about relationships or actions that aren't deeply embedded as routines. It made me wish I knew more about the brain and where various memories and skills are stored.

There were a couple of creepy moments, particularly when things started to get steamy. It's a little bit unclear how consent works in this alternate universe, and while A tries to respect their hosts' bodies, things get a little questionable once A is pursuing Rhiannon. Is it okay for A to kiss Rhiannon in another person's body (Rhiannon gives consent, but the host isn't able to...)? For them to go further? The issue of what is and isn't appropriate is somewhat glazed over, and as A falls deeper in love, they become more willing to disrupt the hosts' routines to get closer to Rhiannon. While I appreciated the romance here, I was distracted by the ethics of forcing a person to cut school (not to mention get physical with a stranger) without their consent.

Overall, this was a really fun read. It touches, however briefly, on issues that I don't see much of in YA novels (although they're starting to appear more): gender identity, sexuality, the immigrant experience, etc. The premise made an old story new again, and even the more cliche aspects of the plot felt fresh. I picked this up because my seniors were reading it in Psychology, and I could see this being a great book to read in a book club (with kids or adults!) because each chapter raised a whole new subset of questions about identity and experience. Those questions aren't explored in much depth, but they're a good starting point for further thought and discussion.

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