Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
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. (blurb from Goodreads)
Rating: PG, 5 stars
Trigger warnings: homophobia, AIDS, suicide attempt
This book. Oh, I have all the feelings for this book. Let’s start with the fact that I read this entire book in one sitting. In about two and a half hours. And I cried almost the entire time. Seriously, I started crying within the first five pages, and although I cry a lot when I read, it’s usually at the end of the book, not at the beginning.
The book starts out with the “Greek Chorus” of men who were lost to AIDS, written in a poetic and immediately-evocative style. Because I’m me and once I’m interested in a book, I don’t go back and read the blurb when I actually start to read the book, I didn’t realize that this was a sort of framing narrative for the novel. Although I’d assumed the entire book would be written in that fashion, I wasn’t disappointed when it shifted focus onto specific, living characters. All in all, I thought the writing struck that balance between plot-driven and poetic, catching the attention of both readers who appreciated every individual word and readers who focus on the bigger picture.
There were times that I found myself frustrated by the overwhelming focus on gay men, an already-dominant demographic in LGBTQ literature. However, I felt like this book was very clearly the story of gay men, and so the lack of bisexual and lesbian characters did not feel as harmful as it could have been. Two Boys Kissing doesn’t market itself as queer YA but as gay YA. Others may disagree with me, but even though the lack of other queer identities was frustrating, I was ultimately ok with it.
*SPOILER* I think part of why I loved this book so much is because it kept seeming like it would be a sad book, but everything ended on a positive, hopeful note. It’s so important to have books with gay characters who face a lot of the same problems other gay teens face without those problems being sugar-coated. By ending the book on a hopeful note instead of a “happily-ever-after” note, it felt both realistic and positive. *END SPOILER*
All in all, this was an excellent book. The writing is good, the characters are sympathetic, and it is gripping enough to make me read it in one sitting.