Sometimes it feels like YA romance fiction has been done to death. Boy meets girl or girl meets boy, there is an obstacle, there is usually a paranormal/supernatural twist, there is quite often a girl in a long flowing dress on the front cover with her head turned away, and they usually live happily ever after… after 2-3 sequels with more obstacles and more drama than some long-running TV soapies. As a bookseller a couple of years ago, I found it quite difficult to recommend YA fiction to customers who were looking to steer their adolescent offspring away from the vampire/paranormal section. Sure there were books about love and romance for teens, but they were easily digestible not particularly deep or thought-provoking. If I was still a bookseller now, I would recommend David Levithan’s latest, Every Day, to those parents. I’d recommend it to teenagers, to adults, to anyone who asked me “have you read anything good lately?” And here I am, recommending it to you!
Somehow, Levithan (the man behind Boy Meets Boy, Wide Awake, The Lover’s Dictionary; co-author of Will Grayson, Will Grayson with John Green and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist with Rachel Cohn) has managed to breathe new life into a genre that in my (very humble) opinion is drowning in average to below-average paranormal romance titles. A round of applause, please…
Every Day is a novel with obvious appeal–for centuries, human beings have devoured stories of difficult love. Love that is not supposed to exist. Love with endless obstacles and barriers: families, race, gender, social status, geographical location, language. We read these because we want to see a happy ending. We want love to prevail despite seemingly insurmountable adversity. Levithan presents his take on this dilemma through A. A is not a boy or a girl. A is not fat or tall or thin or short or white or black. A is all of the above. A is a soul that wakes up every day (geddit?) in the body of a different person. There is no order or design to the process. It has just happened, day after day, for as long as A can remember. Thankfully, that’s about as paranormal as it gets–Every Day is set in the real world. Our world.
A recounts early years, where at first A believed this was what life was like for everyone. But as A grew up and understood this unique situation, rules were made and boundaries were set. Rules like never get too attached, never do anything out of the ordinary or get noticed, and never interfere were established. A has a pattern and for 5,993 days it has, more or less, worked. That it until, on day 5,994, A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets his girlfriend, Rhiannon. In Justin’s body, A breaks all the rules. In Justin’s body, A is more in love with Rhiannon than Justin has been in a long time. By accessing some of Justin’s memories, A realises that Justin and Rhiannon are not very happy. And A decides to give Rhiannon one day, one perfect day.
“I want to give her a good day. Just one good day. I have wandered for so long without any sense of purpose, and now this ephemeral purpose has been given to me–it feels like it has been given to me. I only have a day to give–so why can’t it be a good one? Why can’t it be a shared one? Why can’t I take the music of the moment and see how long it can last? The rules are erasable. I can take this. I can give this.”
A wakes up on day 5,995 in the body of Leslie Wong. On day 5,996, A is Skylar Smith, a soccer player who lives in a town four hours away from Rhiannon. On day 6,005, A is Kelsea Cook, a girl with dark suicidal tendencies. After day 5,994 A spends the rest of Every Day trying to get back to Rhiannon. And every day (I’m sorry, I couldn’t help it) A gets back to Rhiannon in some way–in person, online–to try to convince her that their connection was not only real, but also that their connection is strong enough to defy their unique situation. On day 6,034, Every Day comes to an end. But the staying power of this novel is extreme, in large part due to Levithan’s ability to wind deeply psychological questions into the story, leaving readers with highly existential questions to answer.
I had one huge, major, overwhelming gripe with Every Day. In the novel, A moves between bodies of 16 year-olds, and that is fair enough. Levithan doesn’t go in to detail, but I’m assuming A spends 365 days in the bodies of 365 people of the same age, and then ages by a year. This is okay–if you can come to accept a soul swapping bodies each day, it isn’t a difficult concept. What makes this novel possible and therefore highly unlikely is an invisible geographical boundary that holds A within a certain radius.
Without this, Every Day would be impossible. A could wake up one morning in America and the next day be in France. Or India. Or who knows where else. Levithan does touch on this geographical boundary briefly when A wakes up in a body that is supposed to board a plane to Hawaii that very day. Had the plane trip happened, A would have been stuck jumping between bodies of 16 year-olds in Hawaii until another one went on a plane and ended up somewhere else–thus rendering A’s trek back to Rhiannon damn near impossible. Levithan needed this for the novel to work and I appreciate that. Sometimes though, too convenient can just be downright irritating.
Storyline aside, the novel raises some deep and interesting questions. A observes that we take love’s continuity for granted, just as we take the body’s continuity for granted. For A, the best thing about love is its regular presence. Most nights I sleep next to my boyfriend and I never doubt that he will still be there, the same person and soul intact, when I wake up the next day. A argues that when you spend your life in one body, it’s difficult to get a sense of what like if is really like. When who you are changes every day it is easier to get in touch with the universal, as opposed to being grounded in who you are day after day. Perhaps the most poignant quote of the entire book was that A “learns how much a day is truly worth because they are all so different”. By seeing the world from so many different angles, A get a sense of life’s immeasurable dimensionality. A observes that for most of us, the only difference between each day is what we eat for dinner. A travels across people, and with days experienced as drug addicts, as victims of abuse, living with a mental illness, A appreciates the good days. It’s a new twist on old adages like “never judge a book by its cover” and is an angle that deserves some reflection.
The opposite to this is that A doesn’t understand continuity. A doesn’t know what it is like to have a best friend for ten years–sure A can access the memories of that friend, but A won’t have spent the last ten years building that relationship. A can’t ever feel a true sense of accomplishment upon the achievement of a long-term goal. A doesn’t understand what it means to have a kitten and watch that kitten grow into a cat. A can observe love from the outside, from a wide variety of perspectives, but can’t truly understand what love is. A would have no idea how love actually works–how to go from a fleeting chance encounter to a lifetime spent together. Whereas A tries to hold on to as few every day memories as possible, those of us who stay in our body day in and day out accumulate thousands of memories. This sort of drew me back into the post-Before I Go To Sleep world which draws upon the importance of our day-to-day memories and their role in shaping our lives. Sure we are grounded and don’t experience as much of life as A does, to a certain extent, we are given a body for a lifetime and have the ability to use that body for good. To be a great person who lives a meaningful life and makes a difference in the lives of others.
At one point, A is living in the body of a boy who is attending his grandfather’s funeral. A breaks down at the realisation that there will never be a family grieving over A’s passing. A cannot leave a trail of memories–no one will have ever known A long enough to know what A has done. No one will know what A has done because, in essence, A has done nothing. A only lives off the decisions and successes or failures that have come before. No one will attend A’s funeral.
And so at first glance Levithan has given us a YA novel with a new, fresh take on young love. Under the surface though, Levithan has written a wondrous book–so moving and so full of deep, thought-provoking questions that, for adolescents at the very least, could be a turning point in how they choose to live their lives. I’m in my mid-twenties and I’ll admit it gave me a lot to think about. I think you all should read this.