When you look at the cover for Two Boys Kissing, you get a pretty good idea of what this book will be about. Then you read the synopsis on the inside cover and your idea becomes a bit more defined, a bit clearer. Finally, you sit down to read the book, only to discover that your first impressions were of the vaguest kind.
In Two Boys Kissing, David Levithan brings back the literary chorus of old. The narrative guides of Shakespeare and Ovid at long last reappear, this time through the collective voice of our “ancient” gay predecessors. These are the people who bravely pioneered the social frontier, the rainbow-clad Lewis & Clark who pressed love onward – quietly or with booming voice – and who were lost to one of the greatest tragedies of our day, the AIDS epidemic.
As our guide, this chorus reveals to us a day in the life of multiple contemporary gay youths, in many iterations of the “type.” The main couple, Craig and Harry, are the two boys kissing, but they are not a couple at all (although they used to be). Their goal is to stand up for equality by breaking the world’s record for longest kiss – hoping that the process and the result of two boys’ names together in a permanent book of world records will get people thinking, if not change the world entirely. They are also standing up for their friend, who was violently and viciously beaten for being gay.
In addition to their primary story, the chorus gives us a peek into the worlds of Peter and Neil, a young couple who are learning what that word, “couple,” means; learning how to navigate life for themselves and for each other, including, most importantly, how to understand and respond to one another, sometimes without words. We also meet Avery and Ryan, both of whom have their demons, past and present, and who must confront the idea of what it means to be different, even within the same “gay world.”
Finally, we see Cooper, the boy who no one sees and who refuses to be seen. Cooper’s story is where the chorus truly rallies and where these spirit guides are needed most, lest we forget that where we came from and where we are going are inextricably linked. Technology advances, and these advancements change our perspectives and our possibilities, but for boys like Cooper, the loneliness and isolation only grow deeper, more vacuous.
Thoughts on the Book
Before there was Heartstopper, there was Two Boys Kissing: the gay anthem for our day. It is the very book created from the very inspirations that many of us have been waiting to read for a long, long time. Levithan pulls stories from the real world and links them to our present and our past. He does this through the eyes of a compassionate yet devastatingly helpless and sometimes forgotten chorus of our forbearers.
Levithan, since the publication of his wonderful short novel Boy Meets Boy twenty years ago, has veered from the idyllic and romantic, to the daring and experimental (Every You, Every Me), and the exploratory (Every Day), right into the real, the raw, and the historical. He keeps getting better, and Two Boys Kissing is a triumph indeed.
Quotes to Consider
“It is hard to stop seeing your son as a son and to start seeing him as a human being. It is hard to stop seeing your parents as parents and to start seeing them as human beings. It’s a two-sided transition, and very few people manage it gracefully.”
“What strange creatures we are, to find silence peaceful, when permanent silence is the thing we most dread. Nighttime is not that. Nighttime still rustles, still creaks and whispers and trembles in its throat. It is not darkness we fear, but our own helplessness within it.”
“You grow. Your life widens. And you can’t expect your partner’s love alone to fill you. There will always be space for other things.”
“Here we are, thousands of us, shouting no, shouting at him to stop, crying out and making a net of our bodies, trying to come between him and the water.”
“There is the sudden. There is the eventual. And in between, there is the living.”
Adam W. Burgess is an English Professor at College of Southern Nevada. He has a Ph.D. from Northern Illinois University and is pursuing a post-doc writing certificate at the University of California, Berkeley. He loves engaging in all topics related to LGBTQ literature and craft. You can find Adam on his website or follow him on Twitter, and Instagram.