Book Review: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
To call Two Boys Kissing a young adult novel is to set limits on a book that truly transcends categories of genre and target demographics. You may as well describe Two Boys Kissing as poetry with a plot or a love song transcribed with paper and ink.
Two Boys Kissing is an ode to today’s generation of gay youth, narrated from beyond by a “Greek chorus” (as all the blurbs put it) composed of the voices of the generation of gay men lost to the plague years of the AIDS epidemic. Written throughout in the first-person plural voice, the narrative describes the hopes and fears of the people who came before — and expresses their love and good wishes for the youth of today.
The book is loosely constructed around the events that occur over the course of a weekend, as teens Harry and Craig decide to challenge the record for the world’s longest kiss. As these two boys attempt to kiss for 32 hours straight, with no breaks, no sitting down, no “propping” by any others, their friends gather round to cheer and support them — and bit by bit, they become a world-wide media sensation. Meanwhile, we also follow the story of five other boys who explore first love, family acceptance, fitting in and giving up, speaking up and knowing when to listen.
The writing here is lyrical and absolutely beautiful. I could open to pretty much any page and find a moving moment or a passage that just begs to be read out loud.
We were once like you, only our world wasn’t like yours.
You have no idea how close to death you came. A generation or two earlier, you might be here with us.
We resent you. You astonish us.
Around the world, screens light up. Around the world, words are flown through wires. Around the world, images are reduced to particles and, moments later, are perfectly reassembled. Around the world, people see these two boys kissing and find something there.
Maybe this is why we like watching you so much. Everything is still new to you. We are long past the experience, although we witness new things all the time. But you. New is not just a fact. New can be an emotion.
I could go on and on, because everywhere in Two Boys Kissing are moments of beauty, perfect expressions of pain and loss, hope and love. This is a slim book, less than 200 pages, but every page has meaning and depth. There are no chapter breaks — it’s one long meditation and celebration, and as surprising and unconventional as it is, it truly works.
I believe that Two Boys Kissing will quickly become a very important book for teens. It confronts today’s climate head-on, provides a context for how we got to where we are today, and conveys it all with passion, compassion, and an unwillingness to back down or look away. I can easily see another and different audience for Two Boys Kissing as well — the older generation, gay and straight, that remembers the awful, early years of the AIDS epidemic and hears the voices of friends and loved ones, lost but never forgotten, in the words of the book’s chorus.
On top of all this, Two Boys Kissing tells a sweet and lovely story about a group of individuals. The named characters are finely drawn, with personalities and backstories that make them each unique and yet easily identifiable as real people going through real challenges.
You may read it for the events, for the love stories, for the heartbreak, for the elegance of the writing, or for the memories it evokes. Just read it.
Title: Two Boys Kissing
Author: David Levithan
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Young Adult