Review: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

Two Boys Kissing
by David Levithan
Rating: *****
Read 11/10/2013
I started this as an audio book, late at night. I listened for maybe 3 minutes before my face was leaking. Fifteen minutes in, I was weeping wholeheartedly. Levithan, with his Greek chorus, conjures a generation of the dead. My generation, a lot of them- voices I remember, voices I still mourn. The gravitas and love the chorus brings to this book is gut-wrenching and so moving. I love the conceit, I love the slightly ponderous tone, I love the contrasts with the teens of today, I love everything about this. I had to buy the print book too, because I needed to hold these words in my hands.

I don’t know if this hit me so hard because of my age or because of the ghosts it conjures from my own past, or because it’s infused with wisdom and beauty and heartbreak. I do know that this book is my favorite book of 2013 by head and shoulders, pecs and navels. It’s an extraordinary novel.

I remember the time of the ghosts. I remember them. Hearing their voices again in this novel is hallucinatory and vertiginous. I kept stopping reading this and going back to the beginning, so I wouldn’t have to come to the end. I kept thinking, each time, surely I won’t cry so much this time. But no. The ghostly chorus speaks from such a sore place, I can’t not cry.

This book has kicked my feet out from under me, and I’m dazed, eviscerated, and asea. I’m so much older than I was when first I cracked it open, so much further from the center. I’m nearly in the chorus myself.

Aside from the chorus, this is also the story of several young men who are just beginning to come into their own. Some of them are in love with each other, some are broken, some merely wounded. There are those with supportive families, and those without. Their stories weave together under the eyes of the chorus, and the chorus calls out the little details that make the stories poignant.

I love this book with all my heart. I haven’t cried so much, reading a book, for years. I haven’t followed people around, reading snippets, for years. I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient to read first Shilt’s _And The Band Played On_ (…) and then this directly after, but I don’t know that I can stand it.

Review: The Road Home by Ellen Emerson White

The Road Home
by Ellen Emerson White
Rating: *****
Read 8/20/2013

8/2013 I had to come back to this and re-read it after reading the four Zack Emerson Echo Company books. I love it more, now that I’ve read them. I’m flummoxed as to why it’s not packaged as part of the Echo Company series, and have been engaged in some fairly robust debates as to whether it truly IS part of the series. When I read it first, I thought it could stand alone. Now that I’ve read the Echo Company books, I think it’s much more satisfying, more complete. The backstory is there, and things which are alluded to in this book are whole and have depth and breadth and, well, mass.

A phenomenal series with a spectacular cap, that’s how I’m thinking of them.

7/2013 I was a little girl when we finally got out of Vietnam. I remember going outside and banging pots and pans together, my mother crying. And so many people I loved just missed being there, through luck. My starter husband had a really high number. My uncle went to Germany. My dad got out just in time. My true love kept Cape Cod safe. And there are people I love who didn’t just miss being there. People who still flinch when a Chinook flies over. People who just don’t talk about it.

So. This book, which starts in country and stays tightly focused on the war throughout, was tremendously affecting for me. It’s also very well-written. The characters are so, so real, and one roots hard for them to be okay. So hard, in fact, that one finds one’s self up all night, holding the book in a death grip, reading in a tiny pool of light. Well, maybe that’s only me. I didn’t get much more than 3 chapters in before I ordered the first 4 Echo Company books through Inter-Library Loan.

By turns brutal and tender and introspective and broken. Incredibly well-done.

Review: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton


The Outsiders

by S.E. Hinton
Rating: *****
Read: 5/7/2013

I was thrilled to see this on my library’s list of new audiobooks, and I borrowed it immediately. I waited almost a whole day before I listened to it, wondering if I still knew most of it by heart. Yup.

The narrator is a little twangy, but that’s perfectly accurate to the locale of the book. Which I always conveniently ignored, mentally moving the setting to my own town, my own flat Midwestern singsong accent.

The thing that I am finding entirely fascinating about this book is how I move through time with it, how it changes for me. When I first read it, everyone was so much older than I was, so grown up. Then the characters were my age, more or less, and I knew them. They were just like my friends. Hell, they WERE my friends. That feeling stayed pretty consistent for many years. The last time I read it, my own son was roughly Ponyboy’s age, and there were parts that I felt uncomfortable with. I had some judgmental feelings about the kids smoking, for instance. And though I recognized how ridiculous those feelings actually were, I had them just the same. This time, my son’s as old as Darry, and I’m older by far than Two-Bit’s mother. This time, everyone in the book was so young, and I was maybe even more intimately involved with them than I’ve ever been.

This is among my favorites. Johnny Cade’s scared eyes have haunted me for 30-plus years, and I’m pretty sure this is where I learned the use of appending cakes to a name as a term of endearment, a shortcut I still use today. We won’t even mention Dally. Or the streetlight. Or how much I love him.

This time, I felt Darry’s part so keenly, and I watched the book unfold from his point of view. I spent some mental time with the parents in the courthouse.

I don’t love the book any less. In fact, I don’t think I could love it more. Though that’s just what I said last time, and I reproduce my 2007 review below.

Read: 10/01/2007
I read this book so many times that I wore out multiple copies. I did book reports on it in 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. I like to think I didn’t use the same one over and over again (but I probably did). I recently revisited this one, and found it complicated by the fact that I have an adolescent son. I kept switching viewpoints in my head and finding myself unwilling to believe that my son could be in the same places as Ponyboy.

It’s sorting itself out for me, in ways I hadn’t anticipated. I find that re-reading it has ultimately helped me to grasp the fact that Owen is a person in his own right, who has lots of decisions to make all by himself. With no input from me, thanks. And it’s easier to think of him that way now.

Which is to say that 30 years later, this book is not finished with me. Oh, and I no longer want to date Dallas Winston. Much.