Book Review: Every Day by David Levithan
Every day, main character/narrator A wakes up in a new body with a new life. We never learn how or why; it’s just the simple reality of A’s existence. A can be any ethnicity, gender, identity, or orientation. The only constants are that A is sixteen, and that each visit in a particular body lasts one day, no more, no less.
(I can tell already that this book will be a challenge to discuss, if for no other reason than that pronouns are pretty much off the table. A is neither male nor female; A is whatever the body he/she inhabits for that day is. If I’m confused, I can only imagine how A feels).
A seems to manage this ever-changing life with equanimity. A accepts A’s life; for A, this is normal. A’s modus operandi to to do his/her best with the body of the day, making a good faith effort to get through that body’s normal life as well as possible, whether that means taking history tests, going to a family outing, or playing in a soccer game. Fortunately, A is able to access the memories of whoever’s body he/she is in, so A is more or less able to fake it with teachers, parents, boyfriends, girlfriends. A goes on dates, A hangs out with friends, A does whatever was on the agenda for the day. Each day is something new. Each set of circumstances can be adapted to, and then abandoned for the next.
And then, on day 5994 of A’s existence, A wakes up in the body of Justin, a rather ordinary, somewhat sullen boy. What’s remarkable about Justin is his girlfriend Rhiannon, whose lack of self-confidence masks an inner and outer beauty that largely goes unappreciated by Justin, but which speaks to A’s heart in a way that’s never happened before. A, as Justin, spends an unforgettable day with Rhiannon, who doesn’t understand why her indifferent boyfriend suddenly seems interested in her soul as well as her body. At the end of the day, A can’t let go, and this is the catalyst for everthing that happens in Every Day. A spends each subsequent day trying to get back to Rhiannon, to convince her that he/she is the same person inside, no matter what’s on the outside, and to try to find a way to make a connection that lasts more than one day.
Even when Rhiannon overcomes her disbelief and allows herself to become involved with A, it’s interesting to see her reaction to A’s physical self vary based on the body he’s in. She holds hands with A without hesitation when he’s in an attractive male body, hangs out with A with a minimum of touching when A is a girl. On a day when A shows up as a morbidly obese boy, Rhiannon can’t hide her discomfort at being out on a date with someone of this appearance, despite knowing that the person she loves is inside.
David Levithan’s writing soars. The author presents with great sympathy and sensitivity the range of experience that represent normal for a 16- year-old. We witness a typical day from the inside of relativity well-adjusted jocks, sensitive girls, hot girls, happy slackers, but too, we see from the inside the misery of suicidal depression, drug addiction, and the desperation of an illegal immigrant forced into domestic servitude. The plot of Every Day is absorbing and compelling, but so too are A’s meditations on identity and belonging. A has been boys and girls, gay and straight, healthy and ill, in a happy family and with a troubled life. Attending a gay pride parade and baffled by some of the protesters, A muses:
In my experience, desire is desire, love is love. I have never fallen in love with a gender. I have fallen for individuals. I know this is hard for people to do, but I don’t understand why it’s so hard, when it’s so obvious.
Of course, I also love A’s thoughts as he browses through a bookstore with Rhiannon:
I show her Feed. I tell her all about The Book Thief. I drag her to find Destroy All Cars and First Days on Earth. I explain to her that these have been my companions all these years, the constants from day to day, the stories I can always return to even if mine is always changing.
Every Day reaches its climax as A faces a moral dilemma: Given an opportunity to find a way to remain in the same body, should A do it? If it means having the ability to have a more or less normal life, does that make it justifiable? Or is it kidnapping, in essence, to poach someone else’s life for the sake of achieving one’s own normalcy?
It’s diffcult to do justice to the glorious writing and thoughtful sentiments of Every Day. I loved this book, and was deeply moved by it. I have no hesitation in recommending Every Day.