So… Let’s talk about TWO BOYS KISSING.
This little 196-page book packs more of a punch than some 800-page puppy squishers. It’s rare that a novel effect’s me with such profundity that I sit for a while after just crying.
Yeah, I cried. I cried because I wished 2008!me had read this book—believing if I had, my high school experience would have been very different.
I rarely cry when I’m actually sad, I mostly just go silent. That's something that still held true for me in the reading of TWO BOYS KISSING, because after I wasn’t sad, I wasn’t wistful, I was angry. I felt a lot of loss and anger after reading this story, but not at Levithan (the man’s a lamb) or at the novel or even at myself. I just felt this indescribable anger towards existence as it is. I was angry that I’d been feeling a certain way my whole life and only now- because of the words and their order within this book- has the feeling shifted. I was angry that I'd even been made aware of this feeling in the first place. I felt cheated out of being made to feel this way, that I had needed to read this book at all and even that the book was something that could be written— that’s the only way I can describe it. The world all at once seemed indescribably unfair.
David Levithan is just the knees of the bees knees; if the knees of bees themselves had knees of their own. He's great. Every time I find my chest aching for an queer book or a meaningful read, it’s in Leviathan’s works that I will look forward to plunge myself into. I got the incredible opportunity to meet and speak with him at the Melbourne Writers Festival this year and I’ve gotta say the man is as articulate and lovely as his novels suggest.
TWO BOYS KISSING is probably my favourite of his works. The beginning may be rough for some readers—it was for me, but it's worth it. Having the story narrated by a Greek style Chorus of gay men who've lost their lives to AIDs was at first odd, and to be honest, rather disconcerting. Definitely an experimental leap beyond Leviathan’s usual work. I think their "we" really hit me–yes they were gay men and this was for the most part a story of gay/bisexual men, but the book and it's characters and messages (yes plural) transcended the precognitions of gender/labels and can speak to all Queer folk. Perhaps even all those on the fringes, the marginalized- that's how raw and interpretive the emotion is here. It's relatable.
The Chorus’ collective speech as well as their abject voyeurism and commentary was uncomfortable and even a little creepy at times. But as the story progressed I grew to appreciate this originality, and can say with absolute confidence that TWO BOYS KISSING would in no way bear the same amount of poignancy had it not been narrated by this generation of gay men lost to AIDs.
As with most of my favourite novels it’s told through multiple perspectives. Admittedly in TWO BOYS KISSING, some of these stories are more interesting, emotional or more relatable than others but they are all still cleverly told. The characters are authentic and well realised and more importantly, their emotions and motivations are conveyed well. Each story follows a gay teenager and their daily plights being just that—a queer teen, in a world where such a thing is so deeply frowned upon by far too many, and even when it isn’t it is still incredibly, painfully and curiously hard. This is a problem so many queer teens face today: their struggle both internal and external, seeing such contempt towards queer people as a whole (almost every time they turn on the television) criticized and analysed, knowing they are inherently on the outer, inherently ‘abnormal’. There is a well captured hesitation on the part of Levithan’s characters to interrogate who they are, and then be who that is, despite all the outside circumstances that come into play with such a plight. This is what David Levithan depicts with TWO BOYS KISSING, how god damned hard this all is, across generations and people, circumstances and perspectives. It’s just hard. Sometimes he does this subtly, sometimes not, but then the daily, and historical and even present challenges against Queer people are not subtle—why should our complicated feelings toward it all be?
All in all, I highly recommend it. Everything about this novel was authentic and moving (even If I'm still trying to figure out my reaction to it). TWO BOYS KISSING is an important book to read. Particularly for queer people but also not. It is extremely powerful, difficult, reminding us of those who’ve come before us and those still with us. And that they will only be still with us when perspectives towards queer people and hell- difference as a whole takes a drastic change. It’s a book that leaves you thinking long, long after you've finished reading it. With a unique writing concept, it’s a true challenge to the traditional form of writing and that’s good.
Queer stories work best when queerly written.