David Levithan’s novel, Two Boys Kissing, contains so many layered nuances of gay America in the twenty-first century that I hardly know how to begin this review. The story lines are multiple, and cover many facets of gay life: embarking on a new relationship, saying goodbye to an old one, trolling the internet for boys and men, interacting with parents and siblings in healthy ways, or facing family in awkward confrontations. Most of all, every one of the gay characters finds himself in a world simultaneously welcoming and indifferent, loving and hostile, joyous and depressing.
For an omniscient narrator, an overall spirit or shade who sees into the lives of all the young men and who evaluates their actions as they transpire, Levithan chose a collective voice from the past. Unnamed and undescribed, the narrator is all those afflicted with AIDS who died prematurely. “We are your shadow uncles, your angel godfathers. . . We are the ghosts of the remaining older generation . . . We taught you how to dance.” The somber voice celebrates how far his band of brothers has come in the last thirty years, while at the same time he rues the death knell that sounded over his own peers. Like all the action of this touching novel, his presence is both comforting and sad.
Two Boys Kissing centers on Craig and Harry, once a couple but now just good friends, who decide to set a Guinness Book record for the longest kiss, nearly thirty-six hours of continuous kissing, caught on camera and sent via the internet all over the world. Needless to say, this endeavor is viewed with varying amounts of enthusiasm and disdain. Also in the foreground of the novel are two other young couples, one well-established (though with differing parental support) and one very brand-new. The latter is especially poignant, as Levithan captures perfectly the magic of a first attraction. And finally, there is Cooper, a solitary teen who has absolutely no idea how to find even friendship, let alone fulfilled desire. All these stories intertwine in Two Boys Kissing, echoing each other, testing divergent directions, re-echoing, paralleling, moving apart, moving together again.
As I was reading this novel, I was comparing it (in my imagination) with closeted gay novels I read in my youth. Two Boys Kissing is much more modern, much healthier in its projections and promises. An individual, such a Cooper, may feel guilty, and parents may act like fools, but the overall tone of this book conveys a positive grasp of lives to be happily lived. Even the intoning voice from the past can see how much better the future is becoming.
So I most definitely recommend Two Boys Kissing to anyone who is gay, who might be gay, who wonders about being gay, or who has a loved one who is (or who might be) gay. Indeed, this is the sort of novel one might give one’s parents, for it contains several familial models that are highly revealing. To tell or not to tell? Or just to let a discovery happen? And then, as a mother or a father, how to react? In a way, Two Boys Kissing is a primer for appropriate loving parental behavior, and demonstrates the futility of non-acceptance. Yes, Two Boys Kissing is an excellent, optimistic example of twenty-first century LGBT prose. I hope it achieves the wide readership it deserves. – Ann Ronald
Also available by Levithan: Will Grayson (with John Green); Every Day; The Lover’s Dictionary; Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares (with Rachel Cohn); Boy Meets Boy; The Realm of Possibility; Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (with Rachel Cohn); How They Met and Other Stories; Every you, Every Me (with Jonathan Farmer); Love is the Higher Law; Invisibility (with Andrea Cremer); Wide Awake; The Full Spectrum (with Billy Merrell); Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List (with Rachel Cohn); Up all Night, A Short Story Collection (with Peter Abrahams, Libba Bray, Sara Weeks); Are We There Yet?; Marly’s Ghost (with Brian Brian Selznick); 21 Proms (with Daniel Ehrenhaft); Where We Are, What We See; Ten Things I Hate about You; The Perfect Score; In the Heart of the Quake; You Are Here This Is Now: Poems; 101 Ways to Get Away With Anything; 101 Ways to Stop Beeing Bored; Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle; The Mummy, A Junior Novelization; Six Earlier Days.