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.
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.)