Kissing for a Cause: ‘Two Boys Kissing’ by David Levithan
If a book has the word “kissing” in the title, I’m probably going to read it. I mean, have you even been paying attention to this column? Half (more like most) of the books I recommend to you are kissing-based. I can’t help who I am! But don’t be mistaken–even though there’s kissing galore, this isn’t a light book. In fact, you’re probably going to cry. A few times. You’ve been warned!
Two Boys Kissing is told from approximately one million viewpoints. Okay, so it’s not that many, but it’s a lot. There’s Craig and Harry, who are trying to set a record for the world’s longest kiss. There’s Avery and Ryan, who just met. There’s Peter and Neil, who are navigating a normal relationship (that is, one that’s full of love and doubt at the same time). And then there’s Cooper, who feels totally alone except for the men he meets on dating sites.
But that’s not all! We also get the viewpoint of all the gay men who died of AIDS, looking down on the boys as they go about their lives. That might sound a little wacky, but if you’ve ever read anything by David Levithan, you know he can not only make it work, but make it beautiful. These sections really illustrate the absolute horror of the AIDS epidemic when it was at its worst.
As we see Craig and Harry try to break the record and deal with their feelings as well as practical concerns (like, how do you stand up that long? And WHAT ABOUT PEEING?), we also get to see all the other boys’ relationships. They deal with parents who are understanding, not understanding, and everything in between. They deal with friends and bullies. They fall in love and they feel alone. And they, of course, kiss.
Although the book deals with issues that are specific to gay teenagers, it also focuses on feelings that everyone has, whether they’re gay or straight, old or young. And it’s incredibly refreshing that the book features a transgender character and non-white characters. There is so much emotion coursing through every page (again, no surprise if you’ve ever read anything by David Levithan). If you don’t cry, you might not be human. The voices of the dead and Cooper’s story were especially heart-wrenching. Basically, everyone should read this book. I won’t say whether or not Craig and Harry set that record, but I will say that Two Boys Kissing definitely set the record for “Book That Made Me Cry the Most so Far in 2014.”
-Here’s an example of David Levithan’s gorgeous writing:
“Our anticipation of joy is never the same as joy. Our anticipation of pain is never the same as pain. Our anticipation of challenge is in no way the same experience as the challenge itself. If we could feel the things we fear ahead of time, we would be traumatized. So instead we venture out thinking we know how things will feel, but knowing nothing of how things will really feel. Already, Craig and Harry are far beyond any expectation, any preparation. They must make up each minute as it goes along, and in doing so, they are creative. Yes, creative. You do not need to be writing or painting or sculpting in order to be creative. You must simply create. And this is what Craig and Harry are doing. They are creating a kiss, and they are also creating their stories, and by creating their stories, they are creating their lives.”
-Breaking the world record for longest kiss was also a plot point for one of the very few episodes of The Bachelor that I’ve seen. It was, surprisingly enough, not quite as emotionally affecting as Two Boys Kissing, although it did involve 100% more rose ceremonies.
-That great cover was actually shot by a high school photographer who’s a fan of David Levithan!
What about you guys? Have you read Two Boys Kissing? Did you love it? Let me know in the comments! And, as always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to feature in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment, email me at [email protected] or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.