(review originally posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com)
I borrowed this book from a friend because, for the most part, I like Levithan's work. I've read his collaborative novels Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (which was light and fluffy, but fun) and Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which I also liked a fair bit (that was also due to the fact that it was co-written with John Green, who I LOVE.) My favorite of his work that I've read though, is his novel The Realm of Possibility, which is very, VERY geared for teenagers, but I was just young enough for it to really touch my heart. So, I've always been keen on reading more of his work, and since I found this on my friend's shelf, I asked if I could borrow it.
Well, this novel was okay. It wasn't GREAT, but it was far from terrible.
I have to say, Levithan really does know how to write with teenagers in mind. He writes in a really fun and whimsy kind of prose, that while at times it seems to come off as a little pretentious (it feels like he's trying to appeal to 'hipsters', or people who very actively try to go against the grain) is a breath of fresh air from the mediocrity of a lot of YA fiction. He also creates really quirky characters, which will appeal to most teenagers who strive so hard to be different and to find themselves. Paul, our protagonist was the one of the least quirky of the bunch, but a lot of the supporting characters were so quirky they were almost caricatures.
The experiences these teenagers go through is also quite authentic: coming out of the closet to your family, having a falling-out with your friend because of boy/girlfriend, etc. etc. Nothing in this book comes off as OMG DRAMMAAA (unless Infinite Darlene has anything to say about it) but it IS dramatic at the same time, because these characters are still teenagers; it just doesn't come off as superficial, or soap-opera-ish. It helps that not absolutely everything in this book is resolved, save for Paul and Noah's relationship, which reinforces a realistic depiction of the teenage experience. It does end on a note of hope though, which is good of course. :)
However, there were little things in this book that struck me as kind of odd. For one, while Levithan is great at realizing quirky and distinct characters, it feels like the whole friggin' town/city this novel is set in is quirky; the record where nothing is organized in any particular order, the video rental store that only rents out VHS and refuses to put out DVDs, I mean, really? It's very cute and all, but it's completely unrealistic that those businesses would stay open. This little descriptions came off as pretentious, but I can see sects of teenagers (re: hipsters) gobbling this stuff up. I'm sure I would've if I had read this when I was 15-16, as opposed to 21. These are little things though, that when it comes down to it, don't detract from the story as a whole, so I can let it slide. It still managed to irk me just a bit though.
The other thing that nagged at me a bit was how fast Paul falls for Noah. Now, I can totally understand having a crush on someone after having only one conversation with them. When you first meet someone and you get those butterflies in your stomach after they talk to you? I dig that, and that's what Paul seems to experience with Noah at the beginning of the novel. But when they start to get to know each other and hang out and date and whatever, Paul starts musing that he might be in LOVE with Noah. That's when I'm like: "Whooaa boy, slow down. You've been dating this guy for what? A week? Two? MAYBE three?" It drives me crazy when *anybody*, not just teens, throw the word 'love' around like that. Sure, you can like the guy -- you can like him A LOT -- in that amount of time, but love is a big dealio.
And what the hell was with Paul's kindergarten teacher writing 'Paul is definitely gay' on his report card? I was in Concurrent Education for two years and let me tell, that is breaching ALL KINDS of teacher's ethics writing something like that. I also get annoyed when adults claim they can tell a child's sexuality at so young an age. I had a friend when I was little who loved to wear girl clothes -- dresses especially -- and would argue with me constantly over being the pink Power Ranger when we were playing pretend. Everyone in the neighborhood was *convinced* he would be gay, but as far as I know, he's straight. So, I don't know, that whole little tidbit annoyed the hell out of me.
The whole talk of these kids dating in grade school was also strange. Yes, lots of little kids say they have a 'boyfriend' or 'girlfriend', but Paul seemed very serious to me when he said that Joni and Ted have been dating on-and-off since the fifth grade. Uh, what? I'm sure they called each their 'girlfriend' and 'boyfriend', but that isn't "dating" when you're in the fifth grade. Paul also goes through the list of people he 'dated' while in grade school. Just, what? Maybe if it was more clear that he didn't actually consider them exes it would be funny, or something, but he seemed quite serious when listing these people to the reader.
I want to go back to stuff I liked though. I *loved* the friendship between Paul and Tony. It was very touching seeing how much these two cared for each other, and also refreshing that the love triangle wasn't between the two gay best friends and the third party. I was actually very impressed with all the friendships that Paul has, and how Levithan wrote each of them. The fall-out between him and Joni was kind of heart-breaking (who hasn't lost a friend because they started dating someone?). The side-story between him and Kyle was also nice, even if I was annoyed with Paul for kissing Kyle; way to lead someone on, even if he didn't know Kyle wanted to pursue something more.
Final Verdict: Levithan is really a great writer for teens: he writes quirky and distinct characters who really jump off the pages and is great at writing about stuff that most teens go through in a very authentic way. His writing as fun and quirky as his characters as well, which is a plus, even if it came off as kind of pretentious (for me) at times. There were a bunch of little things about this novel that just really irked me though. Yes, they were small things, but it was a bunch of small things, which kind of amassed into a bigger thing. This is too bad, because Levithan really is a good writer. Will I continue to check his stuff out? Probably. Is this a great piece of GLBT lit? Definitely, even if I found Paul and Noah's relationship moves a little fast; but that's more symptomatic of YA in general, really. However, their relationship is still much more authentically realized than a lot of other romantic relationships I've read in YA.
So, with all the said, a definite recommend if you're looking for some decent GLGT lit. However, as a *whole*, this novel had some kinks in it that bothered me a bit. Little things, yes, but they added up.