It’s Saturday morning and on the lawn in front of a fairly ordinary high school two boys are kissing. Their names are Harry and Craig. They aren’t a couple–although they used to be–and their kiss is no spontaneous expression of affection or lust. Harry and Craig are trying to break the world record for the longest kiss.
Peter and Neil are boyfriends, navigating the complexities of being a couple. When they kiss, it’s a reminder of who they are together. Avery and Ryan just met. They haven’t kissed yet but they want to–if only each can get over his fears. Cooper is alone; he has no one to confide in–let alone someone to kiss. Worst of all, he doesn’t even care–because he stopped caring about anything quite a while ago.
These boys’ stories are threads, woven together into a tapestry imagining the many forms that love can take–and the power of a single kiss.
Now, I must put a little disclaimer out there: I am a massive David Levithan fan. He’s one of the few writers of contemporary YA fiction that I read as a teen–and since I was a selective (and, to be honest, pretty snobby) reader who refused to read fiction set anytime in the last few decades, that’s saying something. So, I might be a little bias in my admiration of this novel.
And for me, this novel is classic David Levithan. Two Boys Kissing incorporates all the elements integral to Levithan’s best work: poetic prose, a diverse cast of characters, unusual narration, and plot focused on emotional (rather than physical) journeys. And above all, his writing continues to demonstrate respect and care for his teenage readership. This novel in particular feels like a love letter to his readers. It’s a story about being young, about being different, about being LGBTQ-identified–and one told with incredible compassion, sincerity, respect, and love.
As in many of his novels, Levithan juggles a large cast of characters in this novel, shifting between their stories and gently connecting them through shared themes, experiences, and explicit plot events (primarily the record-breaking kiss). Now, I foresee that some readers might find the large cast of characters and the constant movement between their narratives disconcerting or overwhelming. However, Levithan takes a premise that could feel sprawling and manages to make the collective narrative feel both seamless and intimate. I love getting to know these characters as we slip in and out of their lives over a two or three day period. While many of the primary characters appear to fit certain identifiable ‘types’ of gay adolescent males through their situations or relationships, Levithan fleshes each one out into fully formed human characters with unique personalities and motivations, avoiding stale stereotypes.
The unusual narrative voice also sets this novel apart. The omniscient but still achingly human Greek chorus of gay men who died during the height of the American AIDS epidemic tie the novel’s multiple narratives together while also adding a sense of history and cross-generational connection frequently lacking in YA novels. Additionally, their narration again demonstrates Levithan’s ability to offer incredible insight on the human experience through deceptively simple statements.
In all, I love following these seeming unconnected characters’ lives as they slowly become intertwined through a single, symbolic kiss. The story illustrates the very powerful defiance & freedom that kiss represents. Even before reading Levithan’s lovely author’s note and acknowledgements, a reader will sense that this particular novel is incredibly personal–and be grateful that Levithan has chosen to write it. Additionally, it can be no mistake that Two Boys Kissing is being published approximately ten years after the appearance of Levithan’s historic debut novel Boy Meets Boy. Two Boys Kissing feel like a natural companion to that novel. As a reader, I feel honored to be involved in such a personal and universal story–and as a librarian, I am excited to use my signed ARC as a give-away during a (hopefully) repeated resource share with our school’s queer-straight alliance this fall. Watch for the release of Two Boys Kissing on August 27.
5/5 stars for this lovely and loving novel!
*review written based on an advanced reader’s copy received from the publisher at American Library Association’s Annual Conference.