By David Levithan
Published 2012 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Every day, A wakes up in a new body. Will it be male or female? Happy or sad? In a relationship or single? A doesn't know - just a new body every day. So A has made some rules: don't get attached, try not to stick out, and don't interfere. But the rules go out the window the day A wakes up in Justin's body and meets his girlfriend, Rhiannon. A has found someone worth breaking the rules for.
Do I really need to explain why I wanted to read this book? I like Levithan, this book got tons of buzz before and after it was released, and that concept is insanely interesting. I wanted to read this book so much that I bought a hardcover copy and had it signed by Levithan at the Texas Book Festival before I read it. This is another book that made the shortlist of Pyrite contenders over at Someday My Printz Will Come, automatically bumping it up in my TBR queue.
So, what do I think of this one? I'm going to start by saying that I made a very conscious choice in that previous paragraph when I said I liked Levithan - I chose not to say I love him. I want to love him - I think he's publishing great books that meet teens where they are at - but for me, I haven't enjoyed all his books as much as I hoped to. So, when I heard people saying this was his best book yet, I had high hopes. Did they pan out? Yes - and no. While I really truly enjoyed this book, I did find some flaws.
I loved this book's concept and the deeper, more intense questions that concept left for Levithan and readers to explore. How can we truly know another person? A struggles with this, even when he (I'm sorry, I'm going to default to the masculine pronoun here) sees their lives "from the inside." But how much of each body's life is A really seeing? After all, he is only there for one day - and then he'll be in a new body. And while A talks often of "accessing" the body's memories and thoughts, there are a few instances where A believes he knows better than those accessed memories. It's very interesting, and something I think teens will really love to spend time thinking about.
Another thing I enjoyed - how romantic this book is. It is and it isn't a typical romance - after all, two people meet and feel a connection but can't be together for some reason. It's just that, in this case, the reason is extraordinary. Though the romance in this book is a case of insta-love, it didn't feel as hokey and unbelievable as those types of romance usually do. I'm not sure if I can pinpoint why this felt different - maybe it's just how strongly and deeply A feels for Rhiannon. Maybe it's partly because neither of them are crazy or scary. I don't know - but this book feels like a love letter to love and it's beautiful to read that. It's going to sound super lamesauce to say this, but it made me remember all the most amazing things about falling for someone and all the amazing and wonderful things about being with someone you love. BUT - even though I enjoyed the romance, it was problematic. A has rules for a reason and I find it a bit hard to believe that he would just throw them all out in his attempt to be with Rhiannon. Because what A is doing by continuing to see her, day after day, body after body, is essentially kidnapping that body for the day. A has no regard for what his host is supposed to be doing each day, choosing instead to seek out Rhiannon. It became uncomfortable for me, as a reader, to see this behavior continue.
Something else I found interesting: Nathan's story. I know we are supposed to be on A's side here, but I completely understand where Nathan is coming from and I think this is another really fascinating issue for readers to explore. I like that there are not a whole heap of answers when we get to the end. Is A a victim? Or something else?
Like many others, I, too, found A's experience in the fat body problematic. Though A does express discomfort with a host's situation at other points in the book, none of them seem to reach the same degree as when A is inhabiting a fat body. In a book that appears to be, at least on one level, about tolerance and love is love no matter what, this depiction is unacceptable. It does not, at all, jibe with A's until-then complete acceptance of the body he's inhabiting. There is a chapter before this where A is hosted by a drug addict, and A is uncomfortable, attempting to fight the body's overwhelming need for a hit. Yet even this is not portrayed with as much discomfort and disgust as when A inhabits the fat body. I just - I expected better from Levithan.
All right, I think I've rambled long enough. As this is most likely the last Printz-worthy contender I'll get to before the announcements, I'll go ahead and throw out a prediction. Though it's not my favorite book of the year, I'm hard-pressed to ignore Code Name Verity as one of the, if not the one, most distinguished books published for young adults this year. I think this gets the gold, hopefully with a number of Honor titles. This was an excellent year for YA fiction and I'm definitely eager to see the announcement.