Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review: Every Day by David Levithan

Every day I am someone else.

I am myself – I know I am myself – but I am also someone else.
It has always been like this.

Each morning, A wakes up in a different body. There’s never any warning about who it will be, but A is used to that. Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

And that’s fine – until A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with – every day . . .

"Every Day" is a very ambitious novel.

To be sure, we've had a lot of ambitious YA books in the last few years. It's a fertile ground to try out new concepts, especially during the dystopian wave of 2011, when various fascinating (and totalitarian) societies vied for our attention. The downfall of many of those books was, at least for me, the fact that they didn't go past the basic premise. 

"Every Day" is not set in a dystopia (or is it?) but it takes its premise and then does its best to explore it to the fullest extent. It takes a seemingly common story (Party 1 loves Party 2, Party 2 is in a relationship with Party 3, Party 1 thinks Party 3 is an asshole and tries to persuade Party 2 of that, Party 2 insists that it's more complicated, while Party 3 carries on like nothing's happening,) and then adds layers upon layers on it by playing with sex, gender, love, betrayal and all other kinds of fun stuff.

Disclaimer: I attended a talk by David Levithan prior to reading the book, where he discussed the themes of "Every Day" and what his intentions were while he was writing it. I may therefore be biased in my evaluation. (I also got an autograph on my copy, but that's beyond the point.)

Spoilers ahead.

An obvious criticism of the novel is the instalove - A spends on day with Rhiannon and is smitten. That, as you might imagine, was addressed at the talk. And honestly? Having read the book, I kinda agree - it wasn't so much love as it was tremendous loneliness and strain taking their toll. And if there's anything this book does, it's drawing a firm line between curiosity and infatuation, infatuation and love.

A is not a perfect protagonist. They (as their gender is never specified) can be equally wordly and immature, and their journey to becoming a better person is engaging because the struggles they face are things we might encounter in our every day life. Justin, our Party 3, is also fairly realistic as a teenage boy - he's bad for Rhiannon, but he's not the obvious kind of cruel or abusive. We can see the two were genuinely fond of each other, but when that wore out, they stayed with each other out of convenience. 

A is... well, I'm really curious as to how A formed themselves. It's stated they developed separately from the bodies they inhabited, but even then, what must it be like, to live in a different body every day, having to submit to a new set of rules, a new set of expectations. For all of A's travelling, they sound oddly like a regular YA teen boy. And even if A has to keep their personality hidden to avoid exposure, how had that personality formed in the first place?

It's only touched on briefly, and I feel that it could have been handled a lot better. 

Rhiannon, too, was interesting for me. A clearly sees her as perfect, but she's shown to have flaws of character just like any other person. For example - once A reveals their secret and Rhiannon accepts that, the two try out dating, but she can't adjust to the fact that she's seeing a different person every day. 

Which is a nice departure from convention. Usually, we get a lot of "the soul is important" gospel, usually before the perfect hero assures us that the heroine is "not like other girls", and that she is as beautiful on the outside as she is on the inside (very convenient.) Rhiannon is clearly "not like other girls", but unlike A, she has some very obvious hang-ups. She's uncomfortable when A's in the body of a less-than-handsome guy, or when they show up in a girl's body, or even when the body is of a half-decent guy.

Cognitive dissonance all around, my friends.

So yeah, I do feel like Rhiannon's character was well-written and believable. What I'm not so sure of is the ending, which I think is meant for us to think that A is being noble and Rhiannon will have a happily ever after... but honestly, I had a problem with it.

Here's the thing - A decides to run away. After a run-in with another, much more ruthless one of their kind, A realizes they need to get on, fast, possibly relinquishing every future possibility for a meaningful connection. Before that, though, they decide to set Rhiannon up with the boy whose body they're currently inhabiting (who is, of course, as perfect as they come.) And after crying and protesting, Rhiannon accepts.

See, here's the thing - I thought some of Rhiannon's story arc was meant to be about her gaining more confidence and finding her voice. But accepting what A suggests, even with her protesting and pleading, feels... wrong. She's basically agreeing wit a choice A made for her; she can't know completely what this guy she's dating is like, even in A assures her he's perfect; agreeing to it feels like... I don't know, regression for her character.

I understand the story can change - Rhiannon and this guy may date briefly and call it quits, or even have an awkward morning-after and go their separate ways. But the way the ending is framed makes me think the readers are supposed to take the happy ending as a fait accompli. Which, after a whole book about the complexities of relationships, rings just this side of false.

Or maybe that's just me. 

Definitely give this a try, if for nothing else, then for the interesting exploration of body/soul politics. Other than that, though... it's a love story. A very, very, ambiguous love story.

Note: Image via BookLikes. Synopsis via Amazon.

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