A Kiss Ain’t Just a Kiss
BY MICHAEL SHIREY | In 2003, David Levithan published his impressive debut novel, “Boy Meets Boy” — a young adult novel about two youths who find love in an LGBT utopia. Was it a bit idealized? Yes. But it also created a voice that would become the essence of Levithan’s charm as a writer, and it changed the way that young adult literature tackled LGBT subject matter.
Levithan would go on to write many other stories of the same caliber, including the New York Times bestselling “The Lover’s Dictionary” and “Every Day.” He would also co-write best-selling “Will Grayson, Will Grayson” with John Green and “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” with Rachel Cohn, the latter since made into a major motion picture.
A decade later after “Boy Meets Boy,” Levithan releases “Two Boys Kissing,” a novel that follows the lives of several gay and trans youth, all engaged in some form of — yep, you guessed it — kissing. Set in the modern day, their stories are told through the eyes of gay men who died of AIDS, who serve as a Greek chorus of “angel godfathers” narrating the highs and lows of each youth’s story.
Young adult author celebrates 10 years of boys meeting boys
This is new territory for Levithan, who normally sticks to lighter subjects. Here, he provides a comparison between the two generations, shedding light on their surprising similarities as well as their more pronounced differences. This is the most honest Levithan has been about the darker side of LGBT history, which he nails with chilling precision.
“We were once like you, only our world wasn’t like yours,” Levithan writes. “You have no idea how close to death you came. A generation or two earlier, you might be here with us. We resent you. You astonish us.”
Enter Craig and Harry, the main characters, as they prepare for their big day. The duo, a former couple who are now just friends, are vying for the Guinness World Record for longest kiss — 32 hours, 12 minutes, and 10 seconds. Big questions, from a rekindled romance to lack of bladder control, are raised. Popular music, from Madonna to Gaga, is referenced. In other words, Levithan pulls from his usual bag of tricks as he navigates these two through their endless make-out session. This may sound petty, but there’s more to it than meets the mouth — I mean eye — as Craig and Harry’s stories unfold.
A couple of towns over, blue-haired Ryan meets pink-haired trans man Avery at a gay prom. Their first kiss and their future as a couple seem uncertain, hinging on every decision they make. Elsewhere still, boyfriends Peter and Neil, together for over a year — an eternity in teen and gay years — struggle with growing apart and the notion they may no longer mean the world to each other.
Levithan acknowledges the hardships the gay community has dealt with in recent years, mainly bullying and suicide. He introduces Tariq, a victim of bullying and physical assault, who uses dance to try to overcome and not be defined by his past. Readers also meet Cooper, a closeted runaway whose life is spiraling out of control as he tumbles through a series of online and real-life sexual encounters.
Some characters cross paths, while others steer clear of each other. In a larger sense, though, they are all connected through the similarity of their experiences. Individually, they are each relatable, and together, they give voice to the current generation of youth — gay or otherwise.
Like most of Levithan’s novels, “Two Boys Kissing” started as a short story, the title inspired by the real-life story of Matty Daley and Bobby Canciello, who set the actual Guinness World Record for longest kiss in 2010. Their story, along with the others, falls into place with Levithan’s refined optimistic style.
The result is an enjoyable novel that celebrates the LGBT community’s progress. That and the joys — read: complications — of two boys’ kiss.
TWO BOYS KISSING | By David Levithan | Knopf Publishing | $15.95 | 208 pages