posted Sunday 18 November 2012 @ 6:27 pm PDT
David Levithan is best known as the author (and co-author) of several sharp contemporary novels. His work has openly and refreshingly tackled politics – most notably in Wide Awake – but is also often about exploring the human heart and its politics. He wrestles with the ways we connect to the people around us and to the world around us. There is always smart dialogue, humor, and a quirky precision to his storytelling. His work to date has sometimes – and sometimes not – included elements of both science fiction and fantasy. Every Day brings together all these elements from his previous novels and melds them into his most accomplished – and most fantastical – work yet.
The premise is deceptively simple. A has spent his life waking up in a different body Every Day, the body being whatever age A currently is. During the course of this novel, A inhabits the bodies of 16-year-olds. As A informs us at the beginning of the novel, ‘‘Every day I am someone else. I am myself – I know I am myself – but I am also someone else. It has always been like this.’’ The rules are established firmly and never violated. A’s time in each body never exceeds a day (and never repeats) and at midnight, the clock resets. If A has the misfortune to be awake when that happens, the pain of being ripped from one body and thrust into another is great, so A tries to be asleep when it happens. A can ‘‘access’’ facts about the person’s life from his or her brain, usually enough to navigate the day without causing problems (foreign languages can pose a challenge), but not their emotions. A has developed a strategy of trying to walk lightly through these lives, trying not to mess things up, to not deviate from the normal parameters of the people’s lives.
That is, until the day the novel begins, when A wakes up in the body of 16-year-old Justin. A has an instinctive dislike of Justin that only deepens when he encounters Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. A watches her fold in on herself, flinching from the casualness of Justin’s treatment. A does something he never does; he wants Rhiannon to feel seen, to give her a good day. And so they go to the beach, and, over the course of the day, A falls in love with her. But, of course, it can’t work, can it? A manages to stay away for a brief time, but can’t get Rhiannon out of mind, even though she’s out of sight. And because A is in roughly the same area – maybe four hours from her one day, or 15 minutes the next; A only travels great distances if the body of the day does – the pull to see her again is strong, too strong to resist. A, who has accepted the nature of existence with no permanent attachments, no permanent external self, begins to want more – A wants a life with Rhiannon. While the feeling is not exactly and immediately mutual, once A crosses the great divide of explaining things – something A has never done before – there is a connection that neither of them can deny. But is it possible for a relationship to overcome such a barrier? Can you truly love someone who inhabits a different body every day?
You’ll have noticed the repetition of A and avoidance of gender pronouns here. While the novel’s flap copy tosses in one ‘‘he,’’ Levithan makes a strong case in the novel that A cannot be so easily assigned a gender. A is a person, but that person identifies as neither male nor female. A has been attracted to members of both sexes (to the person, not the body). Over the course of the novel, A inhabits a wide range of people, lives that have something to say about gender, about class, about depression and addiction, about obesity and beauty. But, through it all, the most profound exploration is of self, because A is undeniably a person too. Amid questions of what love truly is and what self and personality truly are, are deep excavations of what love can cure or excuse and what it can’t. As the novel develops an antagonist who would be too spoilery to discuss in detail, tantalizing possibilities that would be the route taken by a lesser novel come into play, but Levithan thankfully avoids turning A’s story into one about discovering exactly why his existence is the way it is. The circumstances of our lives are happenstance in many ways, but it’s the choices we make – how we understand and connect with those around us and the world, how we choose to live – that makes the difference, that makes our lives matter. Levithan resists the easy, the overly comforting, and in doing so manages a breathtaking and honest exploration of what love means.