WHO IS DAVID LEVITHAN?
Some of you who read “Out” magazine may have seen the wonderful article on David Levithan in the September issue. After reading it my curiosity was peaked and I decided that I would try to reach him and see what made him tick? I fired off an email and he forwarded it to his agent and within a week I had copies of all of his books and am looking forward to doing a phone interview with him soon.
Levithan has captured the audience of young gay readers. Although he, himself did not come out until her was in his college, the characters in his books are younger and have come out a good deal earlier. The high school gay experiences that he writes about are products of kids’ imagination but you would never know that he had not experiences themselves. They read that real. There is something in the sincerity of his style and his stories that makes you want to read his entire oeuvre. I never thought that tales of teen gay love would ever interest me. Levithan’s novels and stories not only interest—they fascinate and mesmerize as well. Let’s take a look at what he has written.
Perhaps Levithan’s most popular book is “Boy Meets Boy” (Knopf, 2003). It is original and crazy and lots of fun. The action takes place at a unique high school where the cheerleaders are biker babes and the homecoming queen whose name is Infinite Darlene was once a guy named Darryl. The schools gay-straight club was not formed because it was needed to keep the gay kids safe but because it was necessary to teach the straight kids how to dance. In the midst of his craziness is a romance—the story of Noah and Paul. Their relationship goes awry and the students place bets to see if they will get back together. (Imagine this at Central High, Little Rock). With 12 to 1 odds against Paul getting Noah back, it does not look too good. Mixed in with this are problems with other friends and we are no longer in Paradise. The characters are zany yet you feel you would love to have one of them around the house.
“The Realm of Possibility” (Knopf, 2004) gives us another set of endearing characters. It deals with all kinds of relationships and all kinds of teenagers. Each of the four storylines centers around one specific kid—- Daniel, Mary, Diana and Megan. Their interactions with their peers and with each other are the stuff good stories are made of. If you want to feel young and like a high schooler again, “The Realm of Possibility” is the book for you. The story that I really loved dealt with two boys on the verge of celebrating their first anniversary. It was far from my own experience but tender enough to make me wish that I had lived through a similar experience.
“The Full Spectrum” (Knopf, 20060 is a collection of youthful writing about identity—gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning identities. I am sure you have noticed that today’s kids are much more aware of both their sexuality and their identity. However, they still seem to have questions. Levithan compiled this anthology with Billy Merrell and what we have is no mere anthology but an eclectic group of poems, essays and stories which range “the full spectrum”. The selections presented here overflow with talent. I know I felt really old when I read several of them and I was amazed by the command and the beauty of the language. Virtually no stone is left unturned as these kids cover topics such as religion, sexuality, friendship, family values, getting together and breaking up and so on and so on. Many of the articles deal with the kind of emotions we all deal with on a day to day basis but what makes this anthology so interesting that what we read are the revelations of the kids themselves.
“Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist” (Knopf, 2006) is a romantic novel in which Levithan combined forces with Rachel Cohen. Two teenagers meet at a punk club and set up a plan to make Mick’s ex-girlfriend jealous by using Nora. Nora is to pretend that she is Nick’s new girl. In alternating chapters, we learn what is going on in an honest and sincere manner. It is almost as if the authors managed to get into the heads of the two characters. During the reading, I felt myself identifying with the characters so strongly that at times I really felt that I was in the book myself. What makes this so strange is that my own life experiences are very far removed from what these kids experience. This book may be small but for what it lacks in length, it makes up for in power.
Finally, there is “Wide Awake” (Knopf, 2006). This is Levithan’s newest book, having been published on September 12 of this year. If I need one word to describe it, that would be WOW. We enter the world of politics Duncan and Jimmy two teenagers are ecstatic over the fact that their Jewish gay candidate was elected president of the United States. As Abraham Stein prepares to take leadership, the youth feel that the country may finally truly become a land of brotherly love. Quite naturally, the election is called into question and it seems highly improbable that the newly elected candidate will ever take the oath of office. The governor of Kansas has not only denounced the election but does so with a vengeance and Stein asks his supporters to head for Kansas to form a group called the “Steinheads” and to rally support for his presidency. As the guys begin their trip to Kansas, they begin to explore themselves and their relationship as well as politics and religion. The journey to support their candidate becomes a journey of discovery as the boys find their identities and sexuality. Action, reaction, sharing and ideals are woven together in this little book which is extremely rich in controversy. Within that controversy, Levithan explores subjects that are near and dear to each of us. Even though the book is geared for teens, it has a lot to say about the way all of us live and see the world. It’s a real blockbuster.
Levithan has provided a wonderful outlet for the younger members of our community by writing books that are so badly needed. Even with all that is available to us today, many times we forget that there is a whole new generation that will take our place and they share the questions we not only once had, but in many cases still do have. Reading his books gives insight into our psyches as well as giving us some fine literature. Whatever your age may be, you owe it to yourself to have a look at his work. You will feel so much better afterward.