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A Reader of Fictions: Review: Two Boys Kissing

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Review: Two Boys Kissing

Two Boys Kissing

Author: David Levithan
Pages: 208
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
Read: August 10-11, 2013
Source: ARC from publisher

Description from Goodreads:
New York Times bestselling author David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.

While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.

This follow-up to the bestselling Every Day showcases David's trademark sharp-witted, warm-hearted tales of teenage love, and serves as a perfect thematic bookend to David's YA debut and breakthrough, Boy Meets Boy, which celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2013.

First Sentence: "You can't know what it is like for us now—you will always be one step behind."

After several disappointments with David Levithan's works written with Rachel Cohn and Andrea Cremer, I'd built up some healthy skepticism about whether his writing really worked for me. With Two Boys Kissing, I now know that he's an author I definitely need to be reading, and am no longer concerned about the collection of his books I already own. Two Boys Kissing is beautiful, a statement about what matters and what it's like to be a gay boy or man.

David Levithan's writing is pretentious, of that I have no doubt. It certainly will not appeal to a lot of readers, who will be annoyed by that, and I don't know how it will play with teen readers, but I love it. The writing in Two Boys Kissing is complex and beautiful and simple. There were so many beautiful quotes that are heartbreaking or inspiring or funny. Plus, I'm personally not bothered by pretentious writing so long as it fits the narrative style and it's perfect for Two Boys Kissing.

The narrators of Two Boys Kissing are, in fact, none of the boys involved in the plot of the story. In fact, they are all dead. In what the blurb aptly describes as a "Greek Chorus," gay men from times before, specifically a generation dead from AIDS watches the boys live out their lives and marvels at how times have changed. At first, I was immensely skeptical of this writing style, but I actually ended up being a huge fan of the way this played out. Though a bit distancing from the actual teen characters and their issues, I found myself highly connected to this chorus of dead men, choking up in every one of their little asides, either from sadness or the inspiring beauty of their words.

By having this chorus of men narrate, Levithan was able to do two things: universalize the experience of being a gay man into more than just what the eight boys specifically focused on have experienced and indicate how much progress has already been made in the acceptance of homosexuality. Certainly total acceptance remains in the future, but the chorus marvels at the fact that two boys can kiss in front of their high school for over a day and receive largely positive feedback. Being gay is no longer as closeted as it used to be.

Another aspect of Two Boys Kissing that I loved was the diversity of the characters, both ethnically and situationally. Characters, both main and minor, come from different racial backgrounds, and that's just a fact and not a defining characteristic. Levithan also portrays with the eight gay teens eight different experiences of being a young gay in America. There are the two boys kissing, broken up and trying to figure out how to become friends. There's a couple in a healthy relationship, accepted by both sets of parents. There's a potential couple in the making, one of the boys who is partway through his gender change from female to male. There's a boy who was badly beaten for his sexual identity, determined to support his best friends in their record-breaking kiss. Finally, there's a boy who fears no one will ever love him who trolls the internet for connection, pretending to be whatever someone wants on a gay dating website. Two Boys Kissing really focuses on capturing the whole range of experience and does so well.

My complaints are very minor. First off, and this could be very serious for some, Two Boys Kissing is definitely preachy. However, I support the messages herein and didn't mind the preaching. Still, it's worth noting that Levithan isn't setting a scene before the reader and leaving them to draw conclusions; he also sets out the conclusions he wants the reader to draw. The other thing, and this is really nitpicky, is that Levithan really loves the term "screwing," and uses it a lot. It really just seemed really out of place and overused, since I feel like it's slang that I don't hear all that much anymore.

I loved Two Boys Kissing. Levithan has written a gorgeous novel with a unique perspective and really delved into the issues of being a gay male. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in GLBT fiction.

Rating: 4.5/5

Favorite Quotes:
"They should be going to sleep, but good company is the enemy of sleep. We remember this feeling so acutely—the desire to linger away the hours with someone else, talking or holding or even just watching a movie. In those moments, the clock seems arbitrary, since you are setting your understanding of time to another, more personal measure."
"'They beat the shit out of me,' he told people, soon after. 'But you know what? I didn't need that shit inside of me. I'm glad it's gone.'"
"There are millions of kisses to be seen, millions of kisses only a click away. We are not talking about sex. We are talking about seeing two boys who love one another kiss one another. That has so much more power than sex. And even as it becomes commonplace, the power is still there. Every time two boys kiss, it opens up the world a little bit more."

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Blogger GillyB said...

I waaaaant this book. It sounds so powerful. Pretentious, yes, but sometimes you need pretentious, especially when dealing with such a wonderful, sensitive subject matter. I haz an excite for this book.

August 14, 2013 at 8:50 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Yup. Some well-placed pretension is fine by me. The only time it bothers me is when it's in a first person novel and the character doesn't seem smart enough to have those sorts of thoughts. Like, why would a house wife with a high school education who's not into reading know all of these huge words? I don't even know all of these words. To that I say "NO."

August 14, 2013 at 8:58 AM  
Blogger Katie said...

I find all his books pretentious and preachy, I just can't take them. Also, I don't understand how he's like the only writer in all of YA that can get away with that. lol

I don't know, I'm kinda anti-David Leviathan because he's a jerk and I don't like his books. So. Sorry to rain on the parade. ;-)

August 14, 2013 at 10:17 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

It's a sad fact that I am not bothered by preaching when I am on board with the message. I can see that it is preachy though. He's not alone, though. I'm sure others get away with it too.

He seemed nice when I met him!

August 14, 2013 at 11:02 AM  
Blogger Alexia Boesen said...

I don't know if I can deal with his preachy-ness. I really hate when a book gets really preachy. It makes me cringe big time. However I've had my eye on this book for awhile and I think I'll still read it.Just maybe not as soon as I planned on.

August 14, 2013 at 11:22 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Levithan has points to make and doesn't want them to be missed. It didn't bother me, but I think that just depends on your stances.

August 14, 2013 at 11:24 AM  
Blogger Jenni said...

I've only tried to read one Levithan book, that Every Day one. I am really excited for this one but I am a little nervous now because I think i would maybe find a lot of what I disliked in Every Day in it. The detached feeling because it's jumping from story to story (as the soul jumped body to body in Every Day) I still plan to give this one a shot and I am so happy that it was such a great read for you!

August 14, 2013 at 12:42 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oooh yeah, I haven't read Every Day yet, so I can't say if that's a similar feeling. This is a rare one for me to love since it's sort of not up on characterization, unless you count the chorus as a character, and even then it's very different.

August 14, 2013 at 12:46 PM  
Blogger Ashley @ The Bibliophile's Corner said...

Wow, I really want to read this one. I still have not read anything by David Levithan, but I want to. This one and Every Day are going to be the first ones I try though.

I really need to read more GLBT books. I always mean to and then forget....

August 14, 2013 at 1:44 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

From what I hear, Every Day's his best, though I'm not sure if anyone has read both yet.

Now is a good time to start!

August 14, 2013 at 1:45 PM  
Blogger Christina Reads YA said...

Why do you think his writing is pretentious?

I worried, when I first read about the concept for this novel, how Levithan would pull it off. How to make one kiss last the entire length of a novel. And it is shorter than I thought it would be, but the Greek chorus thing sounds really poignant. I was hoping to try out Every Day first before I bought any of his other works, but I've seen good review after good review for this one. o.O Here comes the urge to buy and read all the books ever.

I am also debating whether or not to tell one of my gay friends about this book. I don't generally recommend books to him, but he said he'd grown past YA (boo!) because he couldn't find one he could relate to, and I wonder if this is one that he might actually like. He's pretty critical, but the concept of the Greek chorus might sway him and give that additional layer of depth to the story.

August 14, 2013 at 2:27 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

It just is. I mean, who writes a young adult novel with a Greek chorus as the narrator? Come on. It works, sure, but who does that?

Oh,you haven't read his books. When you do, you'll see what I mean. It just very much reads like "I AM SAYING LOFTY AND IMPORTANT THINGS NOW, SO DO PAY ATTENTION." In this case, I agree, but there's just an air of self-importance to it.

Honestly, since the MC of sorts is a chorus of dead men, many of them older, I think it could be an easy sell. Plus, it's a very mature writing style. Go for it!

August 14, 2013 at 2:55 PM  
Blogger Kayla Beck said...

This book cover wins all the book covers. I am so glad it exists, and I might even read it. :-)

August 14, 2013 at 7:07 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I don't think this book will be very popular in Russia!

August 15, 2013 at 12:57 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

It's pretty perfect for the book. Kissy covers are awkward imo, but it is more than usually appropriate here.

August 15, 2013 at 9:08 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Perhaps not. I'm not sure how strict they are about pop culture post-communism though.

August 15, 2013 at 9:12 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

This sounds absolutely amazing!! Definitely a book I need in my life. Great review chick!!

August 15, 2013 at 12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really want to read this one. I'm glad you liked it. I wasn't the hugest fan of some of his other books, but this one sounds really good. The different situations all sound really interesting, and I'm excited about the breaking up and trying to be friends one, I'm not even sure why. If the story is good, I think I can overlook the preachy aspect. Your reviews are so well thought out and written, thanks!

August 15, 2013 at 3:03 PM  
Blogger Kayla Beck said...

It just makes me happy to see a publisher putting it out there in YA. Kissy covers aren't my favorite either, but the statement is grand.

August 15, 2013 at 10:13 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

You do need it in your life!

August 16, 2013 at 8:18 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Oh yeah, I agree, but I do love it for the statement.

August 16, 2013 at 8:19 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Why thank you! The only one of his books I'd enjoyed previously was Will Grayson. I read two he wrote with Rachel Cohn and didn't like either, and I was also unimpressed by Invisibility with Andrea Cremer. All of them were pretentious, but this was at least a topic befitting that, unlike a paranormal romance. Haha.

August 16, 2013 at 8:25 AM  
Blogger roro said...

Thnx for the review. I will be getting iy

August 23, 2013 at 12:59 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I love Levithan's books (the 4 or 5 or so that I have read) so I'm looking forward to this one.

Oh, that's really interesting that the "Greek Chorus" is from a previous generation and the men are all dead and reflecting back on this story. I love that there is a lot of diversity in experiences too.

I'm kinda with you on not minding preachy if it something I'm on board with *shrugs*.

I think I'm going to be buying this one. I also love how for the first two weeks or so $2 of every book goes to the Trevor Project!

August 29, 2013 at 1:33 PM  

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