Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Book review: Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day is about “A,” a quantum-leaper who, every day, inhabits a new body and peeks in the window of a new life. A doesn’t have a full name or a true identity, but s/he does have a basic code for living and a pretty healthy sense of empathy. There are a few rules to the “jumps” that A makes; namely, A only jumps into the bodies of geographically nearby people who are about the same age as A is (about sixteen), and the jump happens every night at midnight. When A inhabits a body, s/he access that person’s memories, but doesn’t necessarily know what that person’s personality is. So when A is in a body, that body has A’s personality for that day. A mostly maintains a very neutral, unassuming personality, or takes context cues based on the body’s personal affects, or how their friends act around them.

Having laid those ground-rules, there are two main aspects to the plot of Every Day. The first, primary, plot, is that A one day lands in a body named Justin, who is boyfriend to a girl named Rhiannon. A falls in love with Rhiannon, and also fairly quickly deduces that Justin isn’t actually that great of a boyfriend to her, but she stays with him out of comfort and that (very familiar, very teenaged) misguided belief that the power of her enduring love will bring him back to her. What follows in this plotline is, for me, a very uncomfortable tale of how A pursues Rhiannon in all manner of different bodies, therefore not only breaking his/her code of not interfering incredibly with the bodies’ usual routines, but also forcing Rhiannon into an awkward sort of relationship where Rhiannon acknowledges that she could love the person who A is, but she has an obviously difficult time accepting every new body. Now, I know there are a lot of people who love this book and find it very bittersweet, but this whole aspect of the story comes across to me as pretty stalkerish and light on regard for Rhiannon’s confusion. As much as A verbally says s/he understands how it’s difficult for Rhiannon, his/her continued pursuit of her is an uncomfortable mirror for real-life situations where so many girls and women are pursued by boys and men who are told to just keep trying and trying until she’s worn down. As much as A is supposed to be genderless, his/her behavior follows a very gendered pattern.

The second aspect of the plot is A’s cursory explorations of the bodies s/he is in. Of course, every body belongs to a person with a drastically different life situation, and Levithan uses this conceit to explore, in small vignettes, some of those tougher situations. At different points, A jumps into a hardcore drug addict, a morbidly obese person, and a suicidal person, among others. A describes how s/he feels in that body, and how the artifacts of that person’s life affect him/her, and also, when applicable, how the world at large reacts to that person and their body. This part of the book comes off a little after-school special and hamfisted to me, but I also appreciate what Levithan is trying to do, and I would hope that the younger readers of Every Day take the advantage they’re given here to consider other perspectives — especially since, for more privileged teenagers, it’s often very difficult to break out of their own self absorption (and I’m not throwing shade, more like speaking from experience.)

This is definitely a book that skews a little more Young than Adult, and as an adult I found it often tediously lacking in subtlety. I gave it three stars because I thought Levithan ended up giving the saga of Rhiannon and A a pretty fair conclusion, and despite the issues I discussed above — and logical inconsistencies that I didn’t really spend a lot of time talking about, because I didn’t want this to become a pedantic rant — I think the effort to write a more “conscious” novel is a commendable one.

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