Wednesday, May 30, 2007

One vote for David Levithan

Wide Awake by David Lubar
4Q 3P mature J/S

I don't know David Levithan, and I never expect to meet him. But if I did, I bet I'd like him. His writing exudes hope for the future and abounds with love. He writes of a time and place when it doesn't matter WHO you love, it matters that you DO love. And that's a world I'd like to live in. And in this book in particular, he makes it clear that he thinks it's a world that God would like us to live in, too.

I'm not (I hope) going to write another of my long-winded synopses of the book. Simply put, it's about the election of the first gay Jewish president. As you can well imagine, even in a David Levithan world, this electoral outcome displeases many people. The election is a squeaker. Kansas is the deciding state, and Stein wins there by just a thousand votes. Or does he? The President questions the outcome, the opposing candidate refuses to concede, and the governor of Kansas announces that there will be a recount. It (ahem) seems that there is some question about the validity of some of those votes. (Is this beginning to sound just a wee bit familiar?)

Duncan and Jimmy have worked very hard on the Stein/Martinez campaign, and they are beyond jubilant that their candidates won. So are their (lesbian) friends Keisha and Mira, as well as Mandy and Janna and the other Jesus Freaks at school. Big time celebration coming up at election headquarters! But when they all get to headquarters, they learn about the recount and their elation ends abruptly. Stein, however, is not a man who takes kindly to the will of the people being subverted. He calls on his supporters all around the country to come to Kansas and let the governor know that they will not stand for this election to be manipulated. His supporters, including Duncan and Jimmy and their friends, heed the call, and a million or more flood into Kansas, vowing to stay until Stein's opponents are forced to give up their quest to overthrow the election. It's pretty amazing what can happen when you stand up for what you believe.

But this book isn't just about a contested election and standing up for your rights. It's also about love, in all its permutations. Duncan loves Jimmy with all his heart, but it is an insecure love. It's easy to see what he loves about Jimmy, but what does Jimmy see in somebody like him? Is he doing this relationship thing right? If only he could have a perfect relationship, one like Keisha and Mira have. But it turns out that Keisha and Mira don't have a perfect relationship after all. It all hits the fan when Keisha is caught making out with Sara, another campaign coworker. Duncan has to rethink his views on what makes a good relationship. Will it strengthen his relationship with Jimmy or break it into little pieces?

Love abounds in this book. The Jesus Freaks really, truly believe in loving their fellow man. It isn't a "love the person, hate the sin" kind of love, either. It's a nonjudgmental equal-opportunity love, the kind of love they believe that Jesus really wanted his followers to practice. And it's about the love between parents and their children, and about the need for parents to love their children even when their children want something from the world other than what their parents would have them want. In short, this book is about love and justice (and the American way!).

I have lots and lots of little pieces of paper sticking out of the pages of this book, so let me get to some of them:


(The opposition party is led by a group of people who used to call themselves the Decents.)

  • The Decents didn't even call themselves "the Decents" anymore. We'd won back the word, just as we'd won back words like moral and right and compassionate in earlier years. Because words mattered. Winning the words was a good part of the battle. And we won them by defining them correctly.
In a section that is much too long to quote, Duncan/Levithan describes how the United States fell to its lowest ebb ever. The paragraph begins:
  • It all started, I guess, with 9/11, decades before I was born. America was in shock, and the politicians decided to use fear to get what they wanted. Fear of mass destruction. Fear of nonwhites and non-Christians. Fear of the unknown. As more bad things happened (caused, in part, by the way we alienated non-white non-Christians with our fearful aggression), the politicians had more fuel for the fear they were creating.
Unh hunh. I hear you, David. Point taken. And then there's this quote, which deserves to be cross-stitched on a sampler and hung on the wall for moments when inspiration is needed:
  • There are moments when the impossible becomes the inevitable, and the rest is just a matter of time.
Stein/Levithan on loving thy neighbor:
  • We are not taught "love they neighbor unless their skin is a different color from yours" or ... "love thy neighbor unless they don't share your beliefs." We are taught "love thy neighbor." No exceptions. We are all in this together -- every single one of us...A Great Community does not mean we all think the same things or do the same things. It simply means we are willing to work together and are willing to love despite our differences."
Gus is showing Duncan his church. Instead of a crucifix, there is a statue of a sympathetic, patient, wise Jesus.
  • What matters to us, and what mattered to God, is Jesus's life, not his death. A miracle happened, but the miracle happened because of who Jesus was. The point is to live like him, not die like him.
One theme of the book, summed up at the beginning of chapter thirteen:
  • The question became What are you willing to do for something you believe in?
This quote is a window into Duncan's soul. He is afraid to go to Kansas. He's disappointed in himself, and Jimmy is very upset with him. He needs to think about what he believes in and who he wants to be.
  • Even if I didn't believe I was the kind of person who could stand up to the people who hated me, I wanted to be the kind of person who would.
Later, when their relationship (and, not inconsequentially, Keisha and Mira's) seems to be headed for disaster, Jimmy says they need to be "realistic" and Duncan thinks:
  • I'd always hated the word realistic. Or, more truthfully, I'd always hated the way people used the word realistic - as if it were a limitation, as if reality was something that conformed so severely to likelihood that surprising things could never, ever happen. From what I'd seen, reality was much more complicated than that...I didn't believe in using probabilities to rule out possibilities.
And here's some food for thought for those who are so sure that they know what God thinks/would say/would do:
  • ...who are they to say? It's one thing to warn someone out of concern. It's another to take it upon yourself personally to make the damnation. The last time I checked, it was the Lord's call whether or not we go to hell.

I know many people will disagree with me, but as I read this book and think about it, the more it seems to me that David Levithan is a true believer, not just in God, but in the goodness of people and the power and truth of love. And he clearly has a thought or two on the state of politics in the United States today!

I finished this book thinking about what it is that I believe and why I believe it and about whether it's worth taking a stand for. I want to remember that it's better to build those beliefs on love and trust, not fear, and that judgment is mine sayeth the Lord, and so it behooves us not to put words in His mouth or actions in His name. And I want to say to the politicians "Keep your hands off our elections!"

Edited to add links to David Levithan's web site and My Space page. On his web site, you can read reviews and excerpts from his books, as well as see what other authors he recommends. If you log in to My Space, you can read his blog, see what he's reading, see what he's recommending, and find out what (lots! of) readers have to say to him.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

TWISTED by Laurie Halse Anderson

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson
5Q 5P (J)/S

For most of his school life, Tyler was a runty dweeb that nobody noticed. He didn't even have a gang of friends to hang around with. And forget girls. He was definitely not a babe magnet. By the end of his junior year, he was tired of being Invisible Man. So he decided to pull a prank that would get him noticed.

Get him noticed it did. His Foul Deed involved five cans of spray paint, the walls of the school, and the police. If you want to pull off a prank like this successfully, it's a good idea not to have your wallet on you. If you must bring it with you, do not leave it behind as a way to sign your artwork. It didn't take long for the police to come knocking.

Tyler has spent the entire summer serving his community service time working for a lawn care firm and helping the school custodians clean up the school grounds. He knows that all this work has put some muscles on him, but he's not prepared for the reaction he gets when he returns to school. Some kids ignore him (still), some kids scorn him for being a troublemaker, and some kids hail him as a hero. But the girls...all of a sudden, he's got their attention. Suddenly he's tall, good looking, and built.

That's Tyler on the outside. Inside, he's the same insecure, confused kid he's always been. Only now, he's angry, too. The anger comes from a lot of places, but number one has to be his father, who now treats him like a hardened criminal because of the Foul Deed. But it's more than that. His father used to be an okay guy, back when Tyler was a kid. But now he's just a total jerk who is in his face all the time. Nothing anyone in the family does is good enough. Tyler's mother copes with the help of multiple gin and tonics. Tyler and his sister just try to keep a low profile. In a way, it's Tyler's father who gets him into his next mess. His boss is having a party, families invited, and Tyler's father insists that his family attend. It's pretty clear (to everyone but Tyler's father) when they get there that they are out of place and not really wanted. But they stay, and that's when things really start going bad. The boss has two kids, Chip and Bethany. Chip is a grade-A jerk and Bethany is hot. Chip doesn't like Tyler. Bethany does. Chip pushes Tyler, Tyler trips, bangs into Bethany, and glasses shatter. Bethany steps on glass, Bethany gets a bad gash on her foot, Tyler swoops in to the rescue. Chip steams.

It wouldn't be right to say that Tyler and Bethany become a couple, but they're both very aware of each other. Eventually, they wind up together at a party. Bethany gets totally wasted, and Tyler knows that he could do pretty much anything he wants to her. Even though one part of him is urging him to go for it, he restrains himself, which doesn't make Bethany happy at all. Tyler leaves the party feeling pretty good that he didn't take advantage of her. But the next day, all hell breaks loose. He may not have taken advantage of the situation, but somebody else did, and whoever that was, he took pictures. But it's Tyler who is getting the blame. After all, everyone knows that Tyler is a bad egg. Everyone includes Tyler's dad and the police. It sure is a twisted world when you do the right thing and wind up looking like a criminal.


I think this is Anderson's best book since Speak. Tyler is an utterly believable character, and your heart just breaks for him as he tries to deal with a false accusations, a little sister who is fourteen-going-on-thirty, a mother bordering on alcoholism, and a father who has forgotten that parenting is as much about love, understanding, and attention as it is about discipline. Throughout the book, Tyler plays a video game that takes place in Hell. Maybe not a subtle bit of symbolism, but it sure is dead on and effective. Anderson may be a woman, but she has her guy-antennae tuned to the right frequency. And, as usual, she writes a heck of a story.

I've never seen a book that has a page with a NOTE: This book is not for children. caution. I know Laurie has written some middle-grade books in addition to her YA novels, but I still found this odd. I'm wondering who decided it belonged in the book and for what reason. (For the record, I do agree. I recommend it to high school students, though some junior high school students will also get full value from it.)

Edited to add a link to Laurie Halse Anderson's blog post about the warning message.

I'm curious to know what's up with dad at the end. I thought at first that one thing was going on, but now I think it might be completely the opposite. It's not wrapped up at the end, which is actually not a bad thing. My suspicion now: The shoe might be on the other foot soon.

Quotes: (Oh, heck! It's taken me weeks to finish writing this up - lots going on at work - and I forgot to keep track of these! I guess I'll have to leave it at this one:)

  • It got a little better in high school. I became invisible, your average piece of drywall who spent too much time playing video games. Girls would look straight at me and never see the writhing masculine beast hidden inside my hundred-thirty-five pounds of veal-white man-flesh.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Tag, I'm it!

I just got tagged for the very first time, thanks to Original Content. The meme going around wants to know what I'm reading. What I should be reading is new books for summer reading book talks, but I haven't gotten my act together on that yet. So at the moment, the books I'm reading or which are next on my To Be Read pile are:

Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Weiss

I couldn't find any other blog for her, but Weiss is posting on Amazon. You can also see a Q & A with her on Simon and Schuster's site. The tagline is "They promised Meredith nine years of safety, but only gave her three." Imagine being molested by your father and having your mother welcome him back with open arms when he gets out on parole. This is a pretty chilling book. Why am I trying to read it before I go to bed at night?

At work (well, at lunch) I'm reading Wide Awake by David Levithan, the book that makes Decent a bad word. I can't wait to blog about this one when I'm done. I have little pieces of paper sticking out from at least a dozen pages. The first gay Jewish president and a stolen election. Kansas is the new Florida. Oh, what am I saying? I'm sure this is one of those books where the author didn't take a thing from real life.

On my way to and from work I'm listening to Marley & Me by John Grogan. And actually, this one is for a summer reading booktalk (for the local high school). To be honest, I wouldn't be reading it (listening to) it otherwise. I'm not much of an animal person, and I'm especially not a dog person. But it's enjoyable and a good book to listen to while driving.

Next up: The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield because so many people are talking about it, especially on the Adbooks Yahoo Group. Most of them really liked it, but a few of them have said it didn't live up to the hype. I'm hoping it does.

And for those of you who might be wondering, books that I finished in the past two weeks and plan to/hope to review soon: Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson (right up there with Speak), The Hand of the Devil by Dean Vincent Carter (truly creepy and another I shouldn't have been reading at bedtime!), A Drowned Maiden's Hair by Laura Schlitz (loved it, great for upper elementary and middle school girls), Harmless by Dana Reinhardt (this is another book I can tag "words are teeth"), and The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti (love Caletti and liked the book, but I'll keep suggesting HBS first).

And I tag... I don't know! Who reads this blog? I have a handful of subscribers and some casual readers, but I don't know who any of them are! Who wants to be tagged? To Be Continued!