Banned Books Week Review: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

September 26, 2013 3 - 3.5 Stars, David Levithan, LGBT 6 ★★★

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers on August 27, 2013
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 208
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Goodreads
three-stars
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.
You can read my initial post about book censorship here.

Maybe I was expecting too much from Two Boys Kissing.  I  specifically chose to read this during Banned Books Week, even though I have not heard news (yet) of Two Boys Kissing being banned.  But Levithan has had books challenged or banned in the past, and I assume that with this cover and title, the censorship police will soon be out in full force.  Based on my experience with Leivthan’s wonderful Every Day, I expected to come here raving about the beauty of Two Boys Kissing.  I expected this to be a book that had the potential to change how people view sexuality.  Instead, what I got was a srtory with a tone that seemed to scream, “THIS IS AN IMPORTANT BOOK,” without the goods to back it up.

The novel switches focus between several gay teens: some out, some not, some in relationships, some not.  I think the intention was to demonstrate the unique struggles each face, depending on the differing circumstances, but the result was that the individual stories were watered down.  The one exception to this was Cooper, who inadvertently outed himself to his parents and was met with rage and disgust.  But his story only stood out because the people around were so awful that it was impossible to ignore.

As mentioned in the synopsis, the story is narrated by a “Greek chorus” of gay men who died in the early days of AIDS.  In those not-too-long ago days, not only was AIDS a virtual death sentence, but being outed as gay had its own dangers.  Things have obviously improved dramatically since then, but there is still a long way to go.  The Greek chorus highlighted the changes over the past few decades and expressed many emotions directed at the main characters, but the lack of subtlety left me unmoved.  Perhaps this will resonate more with younger readers who don’t remember the bad ol’ days, but I felt the technique was overwrought and somewhat manipulative.

Earlier this year, two movies I hadn’t seen in a long time aired on TV.  One was In & Out, starring Kevin Kline and released in 1997, and the other was The Birdcage, starring Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, and Gene Hackman, released in 1996.  Both are comedies and both feature gay characters portrayed in comedic, goofball settings.  I saw both of them at the time they were released, and while it was too long ago to remember my specific reactions, I certainly don’t recall being offended, and I’m sure I laughed right along with it.  (Haha!  Look at the funny, flamboyant gay men!)  But when I saw them both again recently, I was struck by a couple of things: 1) I don’t think these movies could or would or should be made today, and 2) I don’t remember when being gay automatically made someone a subject of widespread ridicule and derision, although these films certainly indicated this was the case.  Yes, these were both comedies, and certainly there was exaggeration for the sake of humor, but I’m also sure that they at least somewhat realistically portrayed society’s response to homosexuality at the time.  The effect on me of watching these two films again was much more powerful than anything I felt while reading Two Boys Kissing.
Review posted at Goodreads.

Stephanie

6 Responses to “Banned Books Week Review: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan”

  1. bookshelffantasies.com

    I read this one last week, but had a much different reaction to it — I actually thought it was quite lovely and moving, and felt that the unusual structure and voice made it a beautiful reading experience. But… I can understand your perspective as well, and it’s interesting to see how different people feel about it. I’d be really curious to see how the book is received among younger readers. I can only bring to it my own adult perspective, and that’s absolutely colored by my memories and experiences related to the early years of the AIDS crisis. Good point about the movies as well — it’s a nice reminder of just how much of a cultural shift we’ve had since then.

    Lisa

    • Stephanie K

      I’m glad you enjoyed this, Lisa! I would still recommend this to readers, because the vast majority of reviews are glowing. I do think and hope that younger readers respond more positively than I did.

  2. Robyn Jones

    I know a lot has changed since the 80’s and the initial AIDS crisis and the late 90’s when all things gay was comedic relief, but I don’t think there’s been that big of a shift in people’s thinking. I think there’s been a shift from whispering about this topic to shouting to the rafters. I was curious about this book from the title and cover of course, but I’m not a fan of message type books. Give me a love story dangit. You still gave it 3 stars. That’s still pretty good.

  3. Shelly

    I’m a little disappointed to read that this book didn’t have that much of an impact on you. I really liked Every Day and I’ve wanted to read more of David Levithan’s books, especially this one. The Greek chorus sounds interesting but it does sound annoying at certain points. 3 stars is not a bad rating but based on my interest in David Levithan, it’s not as high as I hoped. Great review though! 🙂

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