sonk’s #CBR5 Review #46: Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day is the story of A, an undefined entity/being/soul that wakes up every morning in a new body, basically supplanting the being  that the body belongs to. It has always been this way, since A can remember–A has no body of its own, no family, no true identity. A does, however, have its own thoughts and feelings and even its own email address that it uses to keep track of the bodies its inhabited and the things it has experienced. For the most part, A just floats along and does its best to not disrupt the lives of the people it inhabits, until one day it wakes up as Justin, a teenage jerk who just happens to have a beautiful, near-perfect girlfriend, Rhiannon. A falls in love with her, and the rest of the novel is its attempt to preserve that relationship and keep her close while still shifting from body to body.

Read the rest of my review here.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #117: Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn

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After my past indictment of David Levithan as a writer who cares more about the idea than the execution, you’d think he would earn a spot on my list of authors I’ve plain given up on, and you’d be wrong. Okay, not entirely. I read this mostly to see if the book was as loathsome as the film, and I plan on reading 10 Things I Hate About You now that I’ve learned not only was it initially a book, but it was also written by, of all people, David Levithan. But my morbid curiosity in this case has its limits, and they don’t extend far (if at all) past those two.

I say that, and yet here I am, having to admit I was wrong about him, just this one time. Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist was written in alternating chapters, the same as Will Grayson, Will Grayson, with the two authors trading back and forth, each taking one character. And, once more, I couldn’t stand the chapters for one character, while I quite liked the others. The only difference is it wasn’t Levithan who inspired the vitriolic response this time, it was Cohn. Norah stands as an example of what’s wrong with the majority of female characters, her thoughts always seeming to come back to boys and sex. Worse still, those thoughts reveal a deep lack of self-respect. The boy she’s getting over was an unappreciative, manipulative dick, and the one who helps her get over him (Nick) spends the majority of the book more concerned about getting back with his ex-girlfriend than with taking advantage of the perfectly viable girl who just fell into his lap (or, should I say, lips?).

Before people start saying I’m contributing to the problem with wordings such as “taking advantage of,” let’s get one thing straight: I worded it that way on purpose. Why? Because that’s what Nick is doing, whether he realizes it or not. He’s preying on an emotionally weak girl who seems attracted only to boys who are in some way wrong for her. Even disregarding the fact that he pays her no mind until the very end, Nick and Norah have next to no compatibility. They’re just getting to know one another and they already sound like the embittered old couple who’re only able to translate their feelings for one another into anything even resembling love when their resentment of one another leads to rage-sex. This is more pronounced in the movie, which I saw first, but it’s still there in the book.

If Norah’s every other thought wasn’t something inappropriate about Nick, and if she didn’t instigate everything, practically begging Nick to use her as his rebound, Nick would still be mooning over a girl he was too dumb to realize cheated on him. In that sense, Nick isn’t exactly a sympathetic character either, but at least he isn’t playing into a culture of sexism like Norah. And at least Levithan manages to make him charming in spite of his issues. I can see why a girl might fall for him… if he were to cut out all that other crap first. He has self-confidence, which I hear girls are into, as well as more self-respect than you’d think a guy in his situation would have. So clearly he has a leg up on Norah; correction, Norah has a leg up on him because, once again, that’s all she seems to have on her mind. That and a torrent of self-deprecating thoughts that are obviously at the root of it at all and that make it sound like I, known self-deprecator, am positively in love with myself by comparison.

I could just as easily argue that these two emotionally broken fucks are meant for each other. Who else could love a guy so clingy? Who else could love a girl so self-destructive? Actually, Norah’s family is sort of loaded, and it has its share of connections, so I’m sure she wouldn’t have too much trouble convincing boys to make her life more miserable than it already is. Plus, she’s played by Kat Dennings in the movie. Nick only got Michael Cera. I think it’s clear who wins that battle. Yet even picturing Dennings the whole time, I couldn’t think of Norah as a girl I, or any boy, save Nick, would want to date. Admittedly, my first girlfriend was like a less attractive version of Norah in hindsight, her ex basically the twin of Norah’s, and her only dating me out of desperation (as she would tell me after we broke up, though not in those precise words). And I was of sound mind when I chose to date her. But that doesn’t mean I want to read what’s essentially a fictionalized retelling of that mistake of a relationship.

The only reason I asked her out in the first place was because she seemed interested, and the only reason I dated her as long as I did (six months) and got dumped instead of doing the dumping was because she was my first ever real girlfriend. I was naive enough to mistake what I was feeling for love when, in reality, I just liked having a girlfriend, even if I didn’t particularly like her. We weren’t all that compatible. She wasn’t even my type, physically. To be brutally honest, I wonder how blinded by “love” I was to see her as attractive enough to not just kiss, but also have sex with. That sounds awful of me, but I just know that the thought wouldn’t even enter into my mind now that I’m past that point in my life. I’ve had girls moderately more attractive than her show interest in me since then, and I didn’t even give them a passing thought. Like her, they weren’t my type physically, or in any other way for that matter.

In short, I am Nick. Or, better yet, was. So personal bias might play a little into why I wasn’t as bothered by him as I was by Norah. It certainly plays a role in why Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist was, for me, largely a failure. Again, I’m already haunted by memories of the time when I was stupid enough to fall for my own Norah, and so I don’t want a written reminder, which is all it is. Is it in some ways true to life? Yes. Since I lived it, in a sense, I know people like Nick and Norah exist. That doesn’t mean I want to read about it, and it doesn’t mean it doesn’t play into the culture of sexism that we, unfortunately, live in. For those two reasons, I say pass on the book, and don’t even bother watching the movie. It’s not even worth it for Kat Dennings; I’d rather watch Juno, or even Two Broke Girls to get my Dennings fix. Yes, I’m desperate enough to subject myself to Two Broke Girls. That alone should tell you how put off I was by this entire thing and, thus, all you need to know.

 

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #83: The Realm of Possibility by David Levithan

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As point of proof of what I was saying in my last review, The Realm of Possibilitywill be remembered (by me) for its concept, not its characters or story. As it says over on Goodreads: “One school. Twenty voices. Endless possibilities.” That is, if by “endless possibilities” they mean “endless possibilities for insipid teenage angst (written in free verse).”

The Realm of Possibility is the literary equivalent of the “lyrics” I wrote back when I was in high school, when my aspiration was to become a professional lyricist and I called myself Electic Makeshift, since I thought my name having a made-up word would set me apart. I say this because I was as put off by it as I was by my own words when I came across one of my old notebooks in the basement years back.

Every last one of these teenaged morons thinks they’re William Shakespeare, that they have something heart-breakingly profound to say and are equipped (and qualified), at this stage in their life, to say it. And they’re all wrong to think that, each and every one of them. I’m okay with portraying teenagers, angst included, but I don’t want all angst, all the time, which is what this book is. I especially don’t want to see it as told through free verse that I can’t help but think would look a lot better were it put into normal paragraphs and followed normal grammatical conventions.

That’s something Levithan simply cannot allow, however. No, he must be the cleverest and spend all his time flaunting it. I think he just needs to put on some Queen and not try so hard.

 

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #82: The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

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While it’s meant to be a single cohesive work, The Lover’s Dictionary almost functions better as a series of unrelated snapshots. It didn’t occur to me that these snippets, told as definitions, were pieces of the larger puzzle that is these two characters’ relationship, and I liked it less following that realization. Comprehensive as it tries to be, covering moments from every stage in their relationship, it’s not nearly comprehensive enough.

Each definition is like its own entity that I can’t quite reconcile with all the others. None of them seem to slot together like the should, minus the ones that are clearly meant to follow one another, part of the same moment in time. I could legitimately believe it as a re-imagining, of sorts, of Levithan’s latest novel,Every Day. The players remain the same, but each time they’re marginally different, as if each moment takes place in its own separate universe.

This is the byproduct of Levithan’s undying desire to be the most ambitious fella on the block when he doesn’t quite have the talent to support those ambitions, as his contribution to Will Grayson, Will Grayson goes to prove. The Lover’s Dictionary is one of his better experiments, but it never exceeds being just that, an experiment.

It’s by no means a failed experiment. There were numerous occasions where I was nearly moved to tears because his writing had hit too close to home. Numerous lines that deserve to be reblogged into infinity over on tumblr. However, it feels like a dishonest one. Or, in other words, an insincere one, like all of them. There’s that same “aren’t I clever?” attitude that comes along with all of his books. He seems incapable of telling it to us straight.

In Boy Meets Boy, he has to make the setting an LGBT paradise. In Every Day, he’s more enamored with his concept than the story he’s using it to tell, having a little too much fun with the body hopping, as well as with the well-worn stereotypes. In Are We There Yet?, it can’t just be a story of two brothers making up, it has to all occur over the span of a single, short vacation.

His novels always feel more in service to the concept than the characters. Maybe if he started shifting his focus, stopped trying to be so annoyingly clever all the time, his concepts would work, feel more natural than manufactured. Not that he’ll ever do that; this is one writer I don’t expect will ever change his spots. Yet I’ll continue reading him in the hopes that, one day, he will.

 

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #73: Are We There Yet? by David Levithan

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Two brothers, once close, now estranged, are tricked into vacationing together by their parents. Their vacation plays out like every fictional vacation ever, including a Before Sunrise-esque romance minus the nuance, and the two reconcile in its final moments because it’s what a story of this kind demands.

Seriously, there’s no more to it. A time or two, Levithan swindled me into liking it for a quick spurt, telling us how preciously the eldest doted on his younger brother prior to the unexplained split that would occur later. Outside of that, it’s page after page of predictable hogwash. Levithan can’t make me care for these cardboard cutouts, nor can he make them entertaining or, for that matter, funny.

I’m glad it was so short, or else I might not have lasted till the end. And now, my patience is all used up; between this and his chapters in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, Levithan’s put himself on a short leash, and the next book of his I read will decide whether or not he’s abandoned or granted a reprieve.

 

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #55: Every Day by David Levithan

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Look, Cannonballers, it’s The Time Traveler’s Wife dumbed down for teens! Just, instead of hopping around in time against his will, A wakes up each day as a different person. Both make Romeo and Juliet seem like an easy romance by comparison, the main characters in each somehow skirting coming across as creepers and/or nut jobs.

In Every Day, though, you also get a veritable who’s who of stereotypes! Here, A’s the suicidal kid. Here, the fat kid. Etc. Imagine a series of half-baked PSAs. You won’t be far off. There’s no nuance here. Levithan could’ve kept the time frame to a minimum, focusing on a couple character types in particular, letting them transcend their stereotypes.

But he’s too intent upon toying with a concept that is revealed to be just as half-baked. The internal logic of the story is tweaked throughout in order to allow for whatever Levithan needs to happen to occur, and none of the questions he poses about said logic are answered in satisfactory fashion.

It all comes to a head in the closing moments when (SPOILERS) A learns there might possibly be others like him who are able to control this power (or curse, depending upon how you look at it) with training. Having gained this knowledge, he foists the girl he’s been after, who he actually might be able to have a life with now, off on some rando like he’s the one who gets to decide these things (END SPOILERS).

Wrong, wrong, wrongity, wrong. Levithan, I don’t need a happy ending. All I ask is one that doesn’t read as a gargantuan “fuck you” to the reader and the supposed “logic” of the entire story. On that count, you failed miserably. It’s too bad, because I wanted so much to love Every Day. For it to be like The Time Traveler’s Wife’s little brother, not its brain damaged cousin.

Still, I’m too big a sucker for an attention-grabbing concept not to have at least liked it, in spite of all that. So, if you’re like me, you should be able to find something to like in Every Day. Just don’t expect The Time Traveler’s Wife, the young adult version.

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #47: Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan

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Walking home with Boy Meets Boy in hand, I half expected judgmental looks from the inhabitants of my hometown. Butler has a couple gay bars, ones my friend had pointed out to her by her driving inspector of all people, yet it’s never struck me as particularly tolerant. Walking down the sidewalk reading a book as conspicuously titled as Boy Meets Boy, I might as well have been taunting passersby into revealing their secretly homophobic ways. Which is why I made sure to hold the book so as not to keep the title out of view, especially when I walked past my mom as I reentered the house. My parents have a bit of an uncouth and intolerant streak to them, and I didn’t want to kick-start another uncomfortable discussion with my mother.

In the world of Boy Meets Boy, however, people needn’t closet themselves in any way. Whether you’re part of the LBGT community or simply a supporter, like myself, the most you have to worry about is hearing a slur or two on the rarest of occasions. This is a world where a cross-dressing guy can be both star quarterback and homecoming queen. In short, it reads as an argument by Levithan for how things should be. On one hand, I respect this and wish I could live in such a world. On the other hand, I doubt the plausibility of this ever coming to pass and found myself distracted by that as I was reading.

Similarly, I was bothered by the occasional dips into the absurd. Janitors wealthy enough to hire their own janitors thanks to stock trading, yet who stick around out of love for their job. Cheerleaders who ride in on motorcycles. There were times where it worked, instead of making me balk at the mere thought of whatever bullshit Levithan was trying to spin, but for the most part I hated these little digressions.

Yet Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy is a pleasant and breezy enough read for me to look past these, and other, faults. He’s not a bad writer, and this isn’t a bad story; I simply feel as if he would’ve benefited from a more hands-on editor who would’ve helped him cut down on the random side-notes and tone down the utopian nature of it all, thus keeping the reader’s attention where it should be, on what happens when “boy meets boy.”

Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.