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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

every Unwholly day

everday every Unwholly dayevery day by David Levithan
Published by Knopf, August 2012
Reviewed from a final copy

You know a book’s a big deal when the visiting public librarian gives it a shiny booktalk and then all the students want to do is keep hearing about that book, to the exclusion of all the other books said librarian brought. That book is this book: every day. Levithan’s latest has three stars, and is on a slew of year’s best books lists. It’s on our shortlist, too, so we’ll be looking at it again in just a few weeks. (I have to admit, I’m really happy about that, because I think that a few weeks of sitting with this book will help me digest it a little. I just finished it and I suspect that my enjoyment of it is clouding my Printz-vision. Well, that and the fact that I just plain enjoy reading David Levithan’s books.)

So what am I loving here? Well, the premise itself, although far-fetched, is fascinating and allows for a thoughtful, subtle examination of Big Things. You know: self, identity, love, loneliness…stuff like that. It’s ambitious storytelling; Levithan is balancing a lot of factors (many characters; a story about first love; a story about, well, a body snatcher who has no physical form) and the elements come together gracefully. every day is equal parts philosophy and love story, with a thoughtful, earnest, hopeful perspective. A’s reality (or curse, depending on how you look at it) allows Levithan to show the high school experience from a variety of different perspectives. There are many times when A’s experiences in the hosts illuminate a new understanding of zir (A does not identify as either male or female). In particular, when we see A try to outlast a day in the body of a drug addict, we see zir tenacity and care, all wrapped around a strong moral core. When we spend one day with twin James and then are allowed to see A spend the day as James’s twin, Tom, we get an opportunity to explore the out of body experience from the host’s perspective, which, of course, A worries about. But we also see A striving to not focus on how very lonely ze feels. Staying in one place for more than a single day is hard, and that difficulty speaks volumes about the strength A has needed to survive. The premise is also a nice way to explore the love story stuff — how much of an impact does A’s outer self have on zir relationship with Rhiannon? Levithan’s ending is a strong moment as well. A’s circumstances are not changed, but zir approach to those circumstances have changed. We have been able to see not just a love story, but also a coming of age story; now we see A ready to take on a new role and a new approach to zir unique situation.

Some things don’t work quite as well. The story’s pace lags a little in the middle; after Nathan reaches out to A, the story doesn’t deal with that for pages and pages. Some of the “host” characters aren’t very strongly characterized and take a back seat to the A+Rhiannon love story. Sometimes, too, the “host” situation doesn’t even allow us to see A in a new way or with a new perspective; they — and A — are taking a back seat to just getting the plot of the story to its conclusion. As a character, it can be difficult to believe that A is a teenager. Ze is so intellectual, so removed, so non-immediate that it’s easy to forget that we are supposed to be reading about someone aged 16(ish). This is a tricky thing; of course A is removed and intellectual; ze is in some ways limited by the very premise of the book! I had trouble buying the love at first sight moment with A and Rhiannon (but I’m a public Scrooge about that kind of thing, so that might just be more of a me me MEEEEE objection. And to be fair, their relationship did grow and change over the course of the book, eventually becoming more believable for me). Poole is the big baddie here, and only appears once, quickly. He’s meant to be unsettling, creepy, and, I think, powerful seeming. That appearance is too brief to be fully effective; Poole has been off-page for too long and is not as carefully depicted as he should be in the brief time we read about him. By the end of the narrative, A is telling us fairly confidently what the host will or won’t remember, and it’s hard to understand where that insight has come from.

unwholly every Unwholly dayUnWholly by Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster, August 2012
Reviewed from a final copy

And now for something completely different! We have the second book in a series, UnWholly, a part of the Unwind Trilogy by Neal Shusterman. We have slotted it as a buzz book here at Someday; it’s adventure and thought provoking action set in a dystopic world where the question of abortion is being debated with teens’ lives. (Y’all, I’m not being melodramatic; this is the premise of the world! Troubled teens are “unwound” and harvested for organs in this world.) The action is taut, and the literary references are smart (hi, Frankenstein!); it’s a compulsively readable book.

Shusterman structures this like his first in the series; the point of view twists from character to character throughout the narrative. It’s written entirely in the present tense, adding to the forward momentum and energy of the read. The news articles and advertisements scattered throughout the book provide extra details, expanding the world building.

There are few flaws — some of the dialogue is weak; it sometimes reads a little more like action hero posturing than actual conversation. (“‘Yeah, yeah, Mason Michael Starkey. Not get out of my face, your breath stinks.’”) UnWholly tries to balance the individual voices of the teens (there are a lot of characters to keep track of; in addition to the main three from the first book, Shusterman has added new voices and perspectives) with the larger picture of the Unwind world. The voices, the politics, the details of world building: all of this is a lot to maintain, and sometimes in the narrative we get too much telling rather than showing. (“Risa likes to think that their spirits have been galvanized like iron in a furnace, but sometimes it feels like they’ve only been damaged by those harsh flames.”) These moments happen frequently over the course of the novel and, coupled with the extreme premise, make it hard to maintain a suspension of disbelief.

Both of these books had fascinating — and hard to believe — premises. Both of these books are ambitious (although they go in such different directions, it seems strange to pair them together). As much fun as I had reading UnWholly, I don’t see it going the distance at the RealPrintz table; the writing and thin characterization holds it back in this particular context. every day, on the other hand, is a trickier call. It’s generally beautifully written; it’s thought provoking and passionate. It’s also strangely limited by its own premise (by its own rules, there are just too many characters who don’t all contribute enough to the story). I’m interested in what RealCommittee has to say, but I’m even more interested in what you all think! Comments are open, so jump in! (And remember that we’ll be revisiting every day once we start our look at the short list in January.)

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About Sarah Couri

Sarah Couri is a librarian at Grace Church School's High School Division, and has served on a number of YALSA committees, including Quick Picks, Great Graphic Novels, and (most pertinently!) the 2011 Printz Committee. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, GCS, YALSA, or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @scouri or e-mail her at scouri35 at gmail dot com.

Comments

  1. Mark Flowers says:

    Unlike my objections to some of the other books we’ve discussed, I actually think that Every Day is an outright BAD book. The surface level writing was good, and the premise was neat, and it was really easy to read, so I can see why people were entertained by it, but if you dig down a layer or two, I found the whole thing to be a mess start to finish because Levithan’s gimmick (as cool sounding as it is) just doesn’t hold water for a real, emotional plot. Starting with the business about how he was raised–I just simply can’t believe that anything like a sensitive, thoughtful human being could be the end product of a childhood in which he had a different set of parents every single day (I know – some of you are yelling at me again about suspension of disbelief, and I might just have been able to suspend it, if Levithan hadn’t explicitly had A try to explain that, basically, it doesn’t matter to a baby who takes care of it – which, is–especially for me as a parent of young children–just simply insulting).

    But setting aside this basic implausibility, then, if A’s been spending all these years trying so hard to take care of his “hosts”, why does he throw that all out the window after meeting Rhiannon? Love at first sight? If that was the answer, he certainly didn’t sell it. He tells us how much he cares about being careful but the whole book is comprised of a month and change where he does nothing but take risks with his hosts. This is, of course, especially true of the very end, where he decides to basically kidnap his “host.”

    Insulting is the word of this post, because there were at least two other aspects of the book that I found incredibly insulting. 1) The ending, in which A sets up Rhiannon with another guy who A thinks is sort of like the person he would be if he had a body. In other words – here you go, Rhiannon, you obviously need a guy to get you through this situation
    and nice guys are just interchangeable, anyway. 2) I am 100% sure that Levithan intended the opposite of this, but my reaction as a reader was that he was frequently insulting to the issues the “host” bodies had. This was most explicit with the overweight kid, who Levithan goes out of his way to show both A and Rhiannon openly disgusted by. But the drug user, the “mean girl” and many others were sketched out to be just as stereotypical as possible. The premise could have been used to actually show A trying to understand how various different types of teenagers think, and why people are so different, instead, each “host” was just a set of obstacles to getting to the unconvincing love story.

    I have even more complaints about this one, but I’ll leave it at that for now.

  2. TeenReader says:

    I agree with Mark’s second complaint. While it would be hard to do this for EVERY character, the hosts seemed incredibly shallow and contradicted one of the themes of A getting a full understanding of many different lives. Also, the sentence-level writing was “meh” for me. I mean, it certainly was not awful, but i was never wowed like BRIDES OF ROLLROCK ISLAND, THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, or even BOMB. The book was very readable, and the basic concept is cool, but I just don’t see this going the distance as far as LITERARY quality goes.

  3. H. Munca says:

    Mark I had the same reaction about it not mattering to a baby who takes care of it! Anyone with even a nodding acquaintance of attachment theory is going to look askance at that one, surely. That, among other things, put a bad taste in my mouth just for the psychology of the whole book. If A has literally changed hosts every single day since infancy, I wasn’t buying A having such a cohesive self.

    And I dunno, maybe expecting realism in that arena is missing the point somehow, but I couldn’t enjoy this book on the metaphoric level without it.

  4. Miriam says:

    I’m also with Mark.

    I just finished this yesterday, and while I found it fascinating–and unlike Mark I did find it compelling in the way it dealt with mental health, drug abuse, and portraying many QUILTBAG characters–overall I found it frustrating, depressing (and not cleansing-depressing, like A Monster Calls or ultimately-uplifting depressing, like <Will Grayson, Will Grayson), sappy, and unconvincing. Not unconvincing in a “suspension of disbelief” way, unconvincing in a “your message and characters fell down a well” way.

  5. J Curry says:

    Amen, Mark Flowers! Everything you say is on target about this book. I had trouble with the “science” behind it, too (or lack, thereof, as you point out). I didn’t understand how A could not only be sane and functioning, but how he/she could be so much wiser than his/her peers. I found A to be patronizing at best, and a creepy stalker at worst.

    The idea itself is not original. It was used years ago in an old TV show called Quantum Leap. Except there, the main character acquired the ability to jump into other people’s bodies as an adult, so he wouldn’t have had the psychological issues a person in A’s situation would have had. Every Day just seemed like lazy writing to me.

  6. Karyn Silverman says:

    I’m with Miriam in that I did find many of the hosts sympathtically portrayed, but agree with Mark that the choice to have A disgusted only once, and to have that host be the fat host, because size is the one thing it’s acceptable to hate on — that was a very problematic choice. Had there been more than one host A had trouble understanding, this would not have seemed like a statement, but because it’s the only time, it does come across that way.
    My bigger concerns all had to do with plot — I did mostly enjoy reading this, but the entire pastor who is another bodiless soul plotline struck me as all kinds of artificial (and not at all well-meshed with the Rhiannon story). And the love story in general makes no contextual sense — hasn’t A been in the bodies of people with significant others before? And isn’t love at first sight all about pheromones and physical chemical responses, making it almost absurd for a person unencumbered by a body?
    I think this is in many ways an important book, but feels a bit purposeful and occasionally clumsy in how the purpose is explored. I like it less every time I discuss it with anyone — this is a book that I think falls shorter on revisiting.

  7. Miss Print says:

    I really need to read more Shusterman (meaning any Shusterman) books.

    Here I was ready to chime in with issues I had with Every Day but everyone beat me to it. I agree with a lot of the comment complaints. I will say that I enjoyed the writing and thought it was handled well–I think the quality of the writing and the scope of character/hosts is why it’s so easy to see all of the problems this one has. So much is done well that the flaws are even more obvious.

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