Based on true events—and narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS—Two Boys Kissing follows Harry and Craig, two seventeen-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record. While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teens dealing with universal questions of love, identity, and belonging.Amazon
Why THIS Book?
Technically Pride month is over. But #Pride is a year-round thing, baby!
At least it should be.
Plus, I did three “lesbian” books… but only two “gay dude” books…why not even it up?
Anyway, this book was next in the stack. The one under it was Giovanni’s Room and I was really tempted to read that instead. See, the last book I reviewed was so sad that I really wanted something more optimistic, and having read two other David Levithan books (Every Day -an amazing book I should review because it was so good- and Boy Meets Boy – which I didn’t actually like because it felt too cliche but it did have a happy ending-) I decided to ignore my gut and read Two Boys Kissing instead of Giovanni’s Room.
I’ll tell you at the end of the review if this was a good choice.
Atmosphere / Writing Style
We cannot separate them this time. The book is narrated by the omnipresent omniscient chorus of gay men who died of AIDS in the 80s. Which is a choice let me tell you. This is not something you get from the back of the book (I looked) but you get it pretty fast while reading.
What this does is create both an intimacy and a detachment from the characters. The ghost chorus is at times overly nostalgic which is understandable. They are sad and that sadness seeps into the actual hopeful and optimistic storylines that make up the actual narrative of the book. In the hands of a lesser writer, this tone shift between happy and sad would have felt forced and melodramatic. Levithan makes it work. Mostly
The main story is about two boys trying to set a world record for the longest kiss along with a few other side stories about other gay boys and the kissing and lack of kissing happening in their lives. Just the sheer fact that two boys CAN kiss in public is a huge thing, a fact that the chorus never lets us forget. The juxtaposition of the plot tension of this public kiss along with storylines about a gay teen unraveling from his world and two other boys just starting to figure out love is beautifully woven together…. All with tiny bits of mini-stories that the chorus tells us (more as vignettes) about what it was like for gay men during the AIDS epidemic.
It is a short book and the storylines are more vignettes as I said. This means that we only get to know the characters on a superficial level. Most of them actually feel more like stand-ins and symbols of real-life people. Maybe that is how the ghosts see them so that is how they show them to us…. Maybe it is just too cliche and cookie cutter. We have the out gay boy, the closeted gay boy, the white gay boy, the one not-white gay boy, the older gay man who lived through AIDS, the gay boy who has supportive parents, the one with parents that don’t really see it as a big thing, the one with asshole angry bigoted homophobic parents, the player gay boy… and I get it. Levithan wants to show us the whole spectrum of “gay teen boy” and … that’s applaudable but sort of naive. What about the trans gay boys? What about the questioning boys? What about the othered, differently-abled, abused, or boys of color? What about the girls? I know, I know, that wasn’t the scope of this book and I get that… but there is currently a whole *thing* in the community about identity politics and the fragmentation of the community. In going out of his way to attempt to show us everything, it just draws attention to those he isn’t showcasing… which sort of undermines the point. I wish he had stuck with only a few examples to make it less like he was trying to be everything to everyone. Your mileage will vary, I am sure.
Yes. There is some tension and then some relief when it is dealt with… those peaks of emotion make the book worth continuing.
The chorus is sometimes patronizing and full of platitudes and cliches. There are lines that *feel* profound but… aren’t. They are trying really hard and it is almost too much, especially at the beginning. In other words, the actual stories take almost too long to really get going and we almost, almost, think about not finishing. It isn’t a long book, but it feels long because othe ghost chorus and their opinions about everything. They are trying to be both warning and sad while also optimistic and not bitter that they aren’t the ones out there living. It is a balancing act and though there are tears, they are mostly happy.
Would I recommend it?
Hmmm. I’m not sure. The schtick of the chorus works better at the end than the beginning and while I appreciate wheat Levithan is doing, and I think he does it well, it is still a lot and it makes the book sadder and more fraught than his other works. I didn’t live through the AIDS epidemic as a gay man, but I didn’t live through it and did lose loved ones to it. Maybe this book is better suited for the generation after mine… one that only knows about AIDS from history books or vague references in “old” queer films and books. I think Levithan writes mostly for the younger generation, so sure… but I have a hard time imagining that the dead gay chorus will resonate with younger readers. Perhaps I am wrong. I rather hope so.
Now to answer the earlier question about if this was a better choice than Giovanni’s Room. I don’t know. It was sad and I did cry but, mostly, happy relieved tears. Had I known that it was going to be like this, I might have opted for something else but then I would have deprived myself of all the FEELS that this book attempts to illicit. And that would have been a shame.
I’ll put Giovanni’s Room back into the stack and see what happens…
*** ASPECT Method (I created this, I used it, feel free to do the same.)
A Atmosphere: How did it make me feel? What was the world like? This might include the overall tone.
S Style: What was the writing style like? Simplistic or sophisticated? Clunky or beautiful?
P Plot/Pace: Was it engaging? Were there holes? Did it feel too rushed or too long?
E Enjoyment: Was it a chore to finish or compelling enough that I picked it over other fun activities?
C Characters: Were they believable, sympathetic, interesting?
T This? Why did I read *This* book?