Cephalopod Coffeehouse July 2016–Discovering the Truth of TWO BOYS KISSING–A Review

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Hi there! Welcome one and all to the Cephalopod Coffeehouse, a cozy gathering of book lovers, meeting to discuss their thoughts regarding the tomes they enjoyed most over the previous month. Pull up a chair, order your cappuccino and join in the fun.

Today I’m sharing a review for a fantastic YA book by David Levithan. I first read his collaboration on WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON with John Green, but TWO BOYS KISSING is his own work, and it is staggering. It won the Stonewall Book Award, and Mr. Levithan was honored with the 2016 Margaret A Edwards Award in June. You may want to check out his acceptance speech, which is fantastic.

Two Boys KissingAbout the book:
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.

My Review:
I wonder if I can get this book on my son’s high school’s reading list. Truly.

Two Boys Kissing is an interesting and engaging read following the lives of roughly nine characters over a weekend. The focal point of the book is a Guinness World Record breaking kiss–32 hours and change long. It happens between two former boyfriends, to raise awareness of homophobia, specifically a hate-crime beating of a classmate. In the tapestry of the story we encounter two boys who meet at a gay prom, and experience the newness of first attraction/love. We experience the sedate affection of an out couple, who still struggle to define their identities. And, we follow a loner boy whose world implodes when his parents discover he is gay.

The narrator is a haunting Greek chorus of the dead. Gay men who were beaten, murdered, slayed by their own hand, or ripped away by the chilled fingers of AIDS. The insight, the care, the lightness of this chorus of men I wished I’d known brings me, as a reader, personal melancholy.
Such waste. Such misfortune. Such tragedy.

Still:

We do not want to haunt you too somberly. We don’t want our legacy to be gravitas. You wouldn’t want to live your life like that, either. Your mistake would be to find our commonality in our dying. The living part mattered more.
We taught you how to dance.

No, the chorus is there to hover and inform, not imbue with guilt.

There are few things that can make us quite as happy as a gay prom.

Ignorance is not bliss. Bliss is knowing the full meaning of what you have been given.

There is a power in saying, I am not wrong. Society is wrong. Because there is no reason that men and women should have separate bathrooms. There is no reason that we should ever be ashamed of our bodies or ashamed of our love. We are told to cover ourselves up, hide ourselves away, so that other people can have control over us, can make us follow their rules. It is a bastardization of the concept of morality, this rule of shame.

I seriously had chills in reading this book. At the heart of it, Craig and Harry are two boys who are willing to make a public stand. Their classmate Tariq was assaulted by a group of gay-bashers while waiting for his father to pick him up from the movies. He was alone, and wondered how they knew. Through careful omniscient vignettes we learn that Craig is closeted, on the verge of coming out, while Harry is out. Harry’s parents are supportive, and when Craig is overwhelmed with sadness following Tariq’s beating and their budding friendship, he enlists Harry’s help taking a stand–doing something the fallen couldn’t even contemplate in their time: planning a public kiss to beat all others.

Meanwhile, nearby, Neil and his boyfriend Peter have many a date night. Peter’s parents are cool with him being out. Neil’s parents silently accept, but do not openly approve of their son. They experience the moments of Craig and Harry’s kiss via the live webcast, but also in person when they are compelled to be there, to witness a moment in history that is specifically relevant to them.

Meanwhile, nearby, the GSAs of neighboring high schools have organized a gay prom in a community center, and blue-haired Ryan meets pink-haired Avery. Can Ryan accept that Avery was born different? Those moments of sheer magic, finding a kindred spirit, and potential partner. Potential joy and potential pain are in high concentration.

Meanwhile, nearby, Cooper’s father sneaks into his room to discover the explicit chatting he’s been doing on gay websites. The rage is astounding, and sets depressed and despondent Cooper on a reckless search for something, something more than the nothing of his life and how he feels about himself.

The story is fiction based on an historic record-setting kiss between two college boys. The characters in this story are all teen boys in high school. Parallels to their experiences are being drawn throughout, and when tragedy seems to be about to strike, there is still hope. The kiss is not without problems. Both Craig and Harry must stand the entire time, lips touching. There is no time for toilet breaks, to eat, barely enough to take a sip of water via a lip-locked straw. No one can hold them up, or prop them in any way. Haters come to call and attempt assault, despite the presence of law enforcement. The kiss is live-streamed, news broadcast and subject to grave disapproval–of the parental kind. Distractions abound, and at any moment either Craig or Harry could succumb to the fatigue that is tearing at them, but they strive to achieve what neither could have done alone: be a beacon of hope, be an agent of change on an international level.

It’s hard for me to read a book with no chapters. Life intrudes, and makes me need to “find a stopping place.” This book made me never want to stop, despite the life intruding part.

Interested? You can find TWO BOYS KISSING on Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and bookstores and libraries everywhere.

About the Author:
David Levithan is an American children’s book editor and award-winning author. He published his first YA book, Boy Meets Boy, in 2003. Levithan is also the founding editor of PUSH, a Young Adult imprint of Scholastic Press.

You can catch up to him on his website, Facebook, and twitter.

Thanks for popping in and, maybe, head on over to my fellow Coffeehouse reviewers, to see what books they found most interesting this past month.

9 thoughts on “Cephalopod Coffeehouse July 2016–Discovering the Truth of TWO BOYS KISSING–A Review

      • The world has changed so much in just the past 2-3 years, never mind 10 or 20. The town where I teach is Old Vermont, not the hippie enclave most people imagine. The level of comfort I see from kids – middle school kids! – in discussing issues of sexuality blows my mind. I have seen kids transformed – for the considerably better – by the simple act of coming out, something they would not have been able to do even two years ago. I know we have a long way to go but I feel like we’re finally learning to do right by these kids.

      • Agreed. I live in a VERY progressive suburb of Chicago. They had a local ordinance that allowed for same-sex civil union and benefits even before Chicago and the state of Illinois got on board, and still I know it can be hard for kids to come out within their own small sphere. I just hope that we can continue to move forward and make so many safe spaces that all people can be their true selves in public without fear. There’s a part of the book that says something to the effect of: if you put enough closets together you make a room, and enough rooms will make a house, and enough houses will be a town, and enough towns make up the world. It’s a super powerful thought. I’d love to see it happen in my lifetime.

  1. strangepegs says:

    It sounds like my kind of taking a stand kind of story, but I can’t honestly say that it will actually make it onto my reading list. So few things do, these days.

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