Title: Two Boys Kissing
Author: David Levithan
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 27, 2013
New York Times bestselling author David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.
While the two increasingly dehydrated and sleep-deprived boys are locking lips, they become a focal point in the lives of other teen boys dealing with languishing long-term relationships, coming out, navigating gender identity, and falling deeper into the digital rabbit hole of gay hookup sites—all while the kissing former couple tries to figure out their own feelings for each other.
To be honest, I still can’t figure out how I feel about this book, despite having read it weeks ago. There were definitely a lot of cool things about it, but there were also some things that kept me from connecting with it as much as I thought I would.
Let’s start with the good:
First things first: no one can ever accuse David Levithan of not being creative or original. The Lover’s Dictionary probably tops his most-creative-novels list, having told the story of a couple through dictionary entries, but Two Boys Kissing is certainly not far behind. For this book, Levithan chose to narrate the story through a Greek chorus made up of gay men who had died from AIDS. I can honestly say I’ve never come across a book written this way for young adults, and it was definitely an experience to read it.
Secondly, Two Boys Kissing acts as a diverse celebration of what it means to be a gay man (I will come to that distinction later). Levithan presents a variety of stories about gay teens, some intertwining, some not, and gives voice to many different experiences faced by gay and transgender youth today. There was a wide range of experiences on the happy-sad spectrum, and I felt Levithan handled each story with grace without overwhelming the reader.
That said, I did feel like the book was sometimes a little heavy handed in the way it tackled issues faced by gay teens. The Greek chorus really added to that feeling at times for me, and sometimes that part of the narration was just too much and made me want to shout, “Enough already, we get it!”
I was also a little put off by how male-centric the novel was. There were a few female characters, but they only played very minor roles and were mostly the mothers of the teens whose stories were being told. I think what bothered me about the lack of female LGBT characters was that I felt like Levithan was separating the experiences of gay men from other LGBT people a bit too much, even though other genders have had very similar experiences to gay men. Basically, the focus on queer men made me feel invisible as a female pansexual reader. I realize that exploring the experiences of multiple genders may not have been Levithan’s focus with this book, but a lot of the issues faced by the characters, including suicidal thoughts and AIDS, apply to non-male queer people as well.
Finally, I just didn’t feel as emotionally connected to the book as I had anticipated. I think that did have a lot to do with feeling invisible, but I also tend not to like books written in the third-person quite as much, even this very unique third-person.
I would definitely recommend this to queer men and their families due to the breadth of experiences Levithan covers. I think this book could be very important to gay teens as an affirmation, celebration, and recognition of their experiences, despite the somewhat narrow gender lens. Two Boys Kissing continues to mark Levithan as a master writer, and though I was somewhat disappointed by this book, I will be eagerly awaiting his next release.