Friday, August 28, 2015

Two Boys Kissing, by David Levithan

Title: Two Boys Kissing
Author: David Leviathan
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Year: 2013
Pages: 196
Genre: Realistic Fiction/Magical Realism
Themes: LGBT, Acceptance, Love, Family, AIDS
Age Range: 8th through 12th Grade

Summary: 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

I'm pretty sure I haven't read a David Levithan novel that I didn't like. Two Boys Kissing is a beautifully crafted story about what it means to be a young, gay man in America. The main characters, Harry and Craig, are at different places in their coming out. Harry's family knows and accepts him; Craig's family has no idea that he is gay, though he is out to all of his friends. When they decide to attempt to break the world's record for longest kiss, they know that the ensuing attention may make things difficult for Craig, but they and their friends are determined to make it happen. Choosing the front lawn of the high school as their base of operations only adds to the  likelihood that Craig's family will find out.

While they are preparing for, and then spending hours and hours kissing, we meet a cast of other young gay men. Ryan and Avery are falling in love, Neil and Peter are falling out of love, and Cooper has been looking for love through online hook-up sites. Each young man is struggling in his own way to be true to himself, and preserve his relationship with those around him. I think this is a fairly universal adolescent experience, regardless of a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, but the process is intensified (and often more dangerous) for queer youth.

My favorite part of the book, and the one that spoke the most to me as an adult reader, was the chorus of gay male "ghosts" that narrate much of the book. These nameless men are the cultural ancestors of the present-day boys in the story, and they carry much of the history of hatred and fear that characterized living as a queer person in America before the last decade or so. They are the ghosts of those lost to AIDS, and to hate crimes. In their present ghostly state, they can only observe the changes that have happened in regards to the acceptance and recognition of gay relationships since their time, and send all of their love and positive energy out to these young people who represent the reason they were fighting all those years ago. They don't go so far as to say that "the kiss" makes it all worth it-all of the sickness and death and violence and indifference-but each touch, each kiss, each loving moment shared between any of these boys is a marvel to them.

The novel presents an opportunity to talk about the issues facing gay youth today, and to explore the AIDS epidemic and the complete lack of response from the government that allowed it to go on so long without adequate funding for research and treatment. I could see this book being used in a sexuality education class as a jumping off point for discussions of healthy relationships, gender identity, and hook-up culture. Regardless, I think that any culturally responsive school library should include this, and many other exceptional LGBT titles, so that queer youth have a place to read stories about people like them, and so that non-queer youth can learn to have empathy for those walking a different path than they are.

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