Monday, August 27, 2012

And Get Him to Swap Our Places

When I first met A, the protagonist of David Levithan’s excellent new book, Every Day, I assumed A was a boy. I assumed A was straight. A was, after all, in the body of a boy – Justin - and he had fallen in love with a girl – Rhiannon, Justin’s girlfriend. It’s a lot of assumptions to make, really, even with the context. Because what I told myself I was reading as context was really just my own ideas of what was expected.

A lot of us have probably heard the phrase, “oh, you don’t fall in love with a gender, you fall in love with a person.” Maybe some of us have even spoken it. We like to think, to tell ourselves that love, when it happens, doesn’t have anything to do with the outer trappings, but rather the inner person. 

Every Day asks us to think about what that really means.

A is a person, without a body. A person who wakes up, every day, in the body of someone else. “Purely a self,” as Levithan’s introduction to the ARC reads – no set gender, race, orientation, no family of any kind. A is always their own age, in this case sixteen, but everything else changes. Every day.

Levithan sends A through a variety of lives. While the primary drive of the book is A’s relationship with Rhiannon, Levithan does a terrific job using the different bodies and different family situations to add depth to A’s experiences. A becomes a diverse cast of characters, and through the reactions of people – including Rhiannon’s – we are subtly shown the way that things like bodies and families matter in our interactions with each other and the outside world.

One of the things that really intrigued me about Every Day is that Levithan doesn’t linger in the how or why of A. There’s no discussion of whether A’s life of a new borrowed body every day has to do with genetics or magic. The reader is given enough to understand the basic temporal and geographic restrictions, but Levithan doesn’t fetishize the mechanics. It’s an interesting authorial choice, and, I think, the correct one. Because while the reader may find the hows of A’s life a fascinating puzzle, A doesn’t. This is the way A lives, every day. The problem isn’t the switch from body to body. The problem is whether Rhiannon can see the A inside the different bodies, and whether or not A’s presence leaves a mark in the borrowed lives.

It’s easy to say “I’d recognize you anywhere” or “I see you as you truly are.” Probably as easy to say as “don’t judge someone unless you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” Every Day looks at both of those things, and asks us to think about the truths that underlie those easy statements, as well as the truth of what it means to be a self. It’s a smart, compassionate book, that’s telling a real story. I highly recommend it.

By Kat Howard