David Levithan: An Introduction
You may or may not have heard the exciting news that David Levithan, young adult author extraordinaire, and wordsmith of my heart, will be gracing New Zealand shores for the Christchurch Word Festival.
Levithan was one of the cornerstones of my YA reading experience, and I gobbled my way through his works like the hungry bookworm. So imagine my delight when I learned of his impending visit. Yes, I yelled. No, I’m not ashamed.
David Levithan broke onto the YA scene in 2003, though he’d been working in the young adult industry long before that. He is one of the foremost LGBT champions in the young adult industry, and manages to imbue his books with both humour and profundity. If you’ve been missing out on his books, then here’s a few choice titles you can kick off with:
Boy Meets Boy
Set in an idealistic town and time, this is a simple story of a romance: the crush, the wooing, and what comes after. Simple except for the fact that it was different to other LGBT lit of is time. The book presented a queer relationship without being bogged down in the agonies of coming out. At a time when most YA books focusing on the queer experience only focused on the thorny paths and difficult obstacles, Levithan’s debut title provided a fresh, light humorous story that queer teens could enjoy as pure escapism.
“I find my greatest strength in wanting to be strong. I find my greatest bravery in deciding to be brave. I don’t know if I’ve ever realized it before,[…] I think we both realize it now. If there’s no feeling of fear, then there’s no need for courage.” – Boy Meets Boy, David Levithan
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist
David Levithan has a thing for collaborating. He has several collab titles under his name, having worked on books with Rachel Cohn, John Green, and most recently Nina LaCour.
This one, co-authored with Rachel Cohn, is the story of Nick and Norah, high school students who meet one night at a gig, and proceed to have the most life changing night of both their lives. The novel is basically a love letter to New York City, music, and youth. It’ll make you feel like you’re on the brink of a momentous night with all the possibilities in the world at your fingertips. Read it, relish it.
“You know the reason The Beatles made it so big?…’I Wanna Hold Your Hand.’ First single. Fucking brilliant. Perhaps the most fucking brilliant song ever written. Because they nailed it. That’s what everyone wants. Not 24/7 hot wet sex. Not a marriage that lasts a hundred years. Not a Porsche…or a million-dollar crib. No. They wanna hold your hand. They have such a feeling that they can’t hide. Every single successful song of the past fifty years can be traced back to ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand.’ And every single successful love story has those unbearable and unbearably exciting moments of hand-holding.” – Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Rachel Cohn & David Levithan
Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares
Another Levithan and Cohn title, this one is also set in New York City, during Christmas time and features the famous Strand bookstore. Lily, a wistful and quirky teenager (is there any other kind?), finding herself bored and alone near Christmas decides to leave a notebook of dares in the Strand, for a would-be browser. This happens to be the cynical and jaded Dash, who is secretly not as cynical and jaded as he’d like to appear, and he joins in the game, initiating a string of dares that will lead them both on a scavenger hunt around the city.
The teens are sometimes precocious and pretentious as teens tend to be when they’re grappling at whatever they can to individualise themselves. This only adds to the realism though, and there are moments of humour and beautiful writing that makes you stop and take a breath to soak it all in. Plus, it’s New York City during Christmas time. The entire book is just bursting with festivity and colour, but in case you’re more in the Scrooge camp, don’t worry, cynical and jaded Dash has got your back, and you too can pretend you hate the holly jolliness of it all, while still enjoying everything else about it.
“I don’t think meaning is something that can be explained. You have to understand it on your own. It’s like when you’re starting to read. First, you learn the letters. Then, once you know what sounds the letters make, you use them to sound out words. You know that c-a-t leads to cat and d-o-g leads to dog. But then you have to make that extra leap, to understand that the word, the sound, the “cat” is connected to an actual cat , and that “dog” is connected to an actual dog. It’s that leap, that understanding, that leads to meaning. And a lot of the time in life, we’re still just sounding things out. We know the sentences and how to say them. We know the ideas and how to present them. We know the prayers and which words to say in what order. But that’s only spelling.” – Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares, Rachel Cohn and David Levithan
A is not like other teenagers. For one thing, A doesn’t know who they are. Every day A wakes up in a different body, in a different mind, navigating an entirely new world for twenty-fours. One particular day, A meets Rhiannon, and falls head over heels for her. The rest of the narrative chronicles this seemingly impossible relationship, while exploring the meaning of love and affection.
It’s a great premise to explore the grand love story – the one of unfailing devotion, and constancy – while also exploring the radical idea that a love story has no conventional boundaries, and that its players can be as varied as each iteration.
“If you stare at the centre of the universe, there is coldness there. A blankness. Ultimately, the universe doesn’t care about us. Time doesn’t care about us. That’s why we have to care about each other.” – Every Day, David Levithan
How They Met, and Other Stories
This is a collection of love stories that was published in time for Valentine’s Day, 2008. The story behind it is that Levithan wrote short stories of and about love as Valentine’s Day gifts for his friends. They date from his high school years to the present day, and have been published in this collection so people like you and I can quietly cry over how ridiculously talented he was even at a young age.
“Love doesn’t have to be on Valentine’s Day. It doesn’t have to be by the time you turn eighteen or thirty-three or fifty-nine. It doesn’t have to conform to whatever is usual. It doesn’t have to be kismet at once, or rhapsody by the third day.
It just has to be. In time. In place. In spirit.
It just has to be.” – How They Met, and Other Stories, David Levithan