Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Genre: YA, LGBT, human experience, love
Rating: 4.94 out of 5 stars
Summary: Two Boys Kissing presents several stories from the lives of various gay teenagers centered around Harry and Craig who are attempting to beat the world record for longest kiss by kissing for over 32 hours straight. Harry and Craig are relying on each other and their incredible bond of friendship and love. Avery and Ryan just met for the first time and are experiencing that amazing giddiness that comes with first dates. Neil and Peter have been dating a year and are still in love, but dealing with parents and potential boredom. And Cooper…. Cooper feels completely alone. The story is narrated by a Greek chorus of gay men who died during the AIDS epidemic and who act as silent ghosts watching over the world and these boys as they live their lives. They represent a perspective of those who came before and show us how some things have changed, and how some things will always be the same.
First, some congratulations! Two Boys Kissing was just announced this week as a finalist on the longlist of National Book Award nominees in the Young People’s Literature category! Now is a great time to jump on board and read this fantastic book if you haven’t already! (Also check out the other nominees at www.nationalbook.org.)
Once again, David Levithan shows that he is an expert at making me FEEL MY FEELINGS. Two Boys Kissing is so very real, despite the chorus of ghosts telling the story, and just so moving. I am a girl and I cannot begin to imagine the struggle that so many people have gone through and are still struggling through today despite the years that have gone by. This book made me ache with sadness, burn with anger, shake with fear, and smile with delight. It was such a great read and I would definitely recommend this to all gay boys because it is part of their story and it is told so beautifully. And I would recommend this to everyone because this is a story of PEOPLE and we are all people and we should read everything. As humans we share struggles. We all experience struggle and heartache and joy and love. Some people, gay or straight, have more or different or more difficult struggles than others, but we all feel these things and we can all reach out and help.
This book has no chapters and is presented in a continuous flow with page breaks when we switch to a different story. The main focus is on Harry and Craig who are attempting to kiss for over 32 hours straight – a feat of endurance that made me exhausted just reading about it. The two used to be a couple, but broke up and remain friends with an incredible connection. Harry’s parents have always been 100% supportive and are there to cheer them on while Craig’s parents have no idea he’s even gay. I found through a lot of this book that many of these boys spend most of their lives hiding. As the reader, we get to see their stories while they are in private – just being themselves and just being teenagers in a relationship – kissing or arguing or just playing video games. But so many of them can’t do that in front of other people out of fear. So the fact that Harry and Craig are about to expose themselves to the whole world with a live Internet feed is a huge deal. So many people come to cheer them on. Some come to throw eggs at them and yell horrible things.
Because this book is about teenagers, how their parents view homosexuality is a big deal. Peter’s parents know and are fine with it, his boyfriend Neil’s parents know and are fine with it….as long as it is never mentioned or acknowledged. While this surely must be better than parents who show anger or violence or evict you from your home – a refusal to acknowledge who he really is takes a toll on Neil, as you can imagine. There is always the question – will a confrontation make things better or worse? It’s a scary thing for anyone. Meanwhile, the two of them are in love, but worry about the future. Maybe they will get bored with each other, or maybe one of them will find someone better… They are so comfortable with each other, but what if they’re too comfortable and it all slips away from them? Deep questions for teenagers in love!
With our third couple – Avery and Ryan – we have a different dynamic. The two of them meet at a gay prom that was organized in a small town since gay couples were not allowed to attend their actual high school prom together. Immediately they have a connection and set up a first official date for the next day. Ryan has an aunt to support him. Avery is transgendered and his parents have been helping him transition to male and have never acted like it was a big deal at all. Through Avery and Ryan we see the awkwardness of getting to know someone you really, really like while desperately trying not to do anything to screw it up. Already they’re imagining whole lives together, but everything could hinge on getting these first few hours right. Avery struggles with body image issues and Ryan struggles with bullies, but they both are sure they want each other and they have hope it will work.
Then there is Cooper who is deep in hiding. He’s isolated himself completely from people at school and from his parents and spends all his time in online sex chat rooms. He likes the attention, the rush of being able to say whatever he wants without having to act on it. But one night he falls asleep at his computer and his dad discovers his online conversations. Suddenly Cooper is being attacked, his dad is violent, his mom is yelling and he just runs. He gets in his car and just drives away. His parents call and leave messages, but he doesn’t listen to them. He realizes he has absolutely no where to go – he really believes no one cares about him at all. There is one moment in particular that struck me – he’s in a Walmart to waste some time and runs into a girl from school. She says hello and smiles and tries to have a conversation with him and make jokes. But it’s too late. He has already chosen to remove himself from the world so much that he can barely speak to her at all, cannot comprehend why she would be talking to him or asking him friendly questions. He feels like he is not a part of the world at all. It made me so sad to think that someone WAS trying to reach out to him and probably would have listened if he wanted to talk, but he just couldn’t. His downward spiral continues and eventually comes to an absolutely terrifying conclusion that had my heart pounding out of my chest.
All of these stories are amazing – even when they just seem ordinary. It’s incredible how so many people stand up every day and deal with the bullying and homophobia that is tragically still so rampant. But I have to think it’s getting better, that things will keep getting better and eventually way less kids will have to worry about getting beat up or kicked out of their homes just for being themselves. I must admit, after finishing this book with my heart still pounding I had this moment of wondering – is this book for me? Is it okay for me to feel all these things about this story even though I haven’t experienced this? But I think it is. None of these stories are my stories to tell, but I can LISTEN. We all need to listen. It also inspired a google search about how to be a gay ally because I know that I am, but I want to make sure I’m doing the right things I guess…
I really liked this list from The Stonewall Center at UMASS:
•Use the words “gay” and “lesbian” instead of “homosexual.” The overwhelming majority of gay men and lesbians do not identify with or use the word “homosexual” to describe themselves.
•Use non-gender specific language. Ask “Are you seeing someone?” or “Are you in a committed relationship?,” instead of “Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend?” or “Are you married?” Use the word “partner” or “significant other” instead of “boyfriend/girlfriend” or “husband/wife.”
•Do not assume the sexual orientation of another person even when that person is in a committed relationship with someone of a different gender. Many bisexuals, and even some gay men and lesbians, are in different-sex relationships. Also, do not assume that a transgender person is gay or will seek to transition to become heterosexual.
•Do not assume that a gay, lesbian, or bisexual person is attracted to you just because they have disclosed their sexual identity. If any interest is shown, be flattered, not flustered. Treat any interest that someone might show just as you would if it came from someone whois heterosexual.
•Challenge your own conceptions about gender-appropriate roles and behaviors. Do not expect people to conform to society’s beliefs about “women” and “men.”
•Validate people’s gender expression. For example, if a person assigned male at birth identifies as female, refer to that person as “she” and use her chosen name. If you are unsure how to refer to a person’s gender, simply ask that person.
•Speak out against statements and jokes that attack LGBT people. Letting others know that you find anti-LGBT statements and jokes offensive and unacceptable can go a long way toward reducing homo/bi/transphobia.
•Educate yourself about LGBT histories, cultures, and concerns. Read LGBT-themed books and publications and attend LGBT events.
•Support and involve yourself in LGBT organizations and causes. Donate money or volunteer time to LGBT organizations. Write letters to your political representatives asking them to support legislation that positively affects LGBT people. Support local LGBT businesses and LGBT-friendly national chain stores (see the Human Rights Campaign’s website for information on LGBT-supportive corporations: http://www.hrc.org).
So read more stuff and be friends with people and listen and speak up! Also read this book because it’s great.
-Loved the style and flow of the book as the stories were told through the eyes of the chorus of ghosts
-Made me feel all of my feelings! So many feelings! Fear, anger, sadness, and joy – it’s a ride.
-Wonderful variety of real and relatable characters
-Lovely message of hope and love