Pride Month Book Reviews! #4: Two Boys Kissing (an analysis of narrative perspective)
Two Boys Kissing
By David Levithan
THIS BOOK IS SO GOOD.
This is not at all what I expected. And that's not to say I wasn't expecting it to be good. I WAS. I had high expectations for this book. I already knew I liked David Levithan, since I read Will Grayson Will Grayson a few years ago, and because I once saw him at Book Con and he was awesome. So I definitely had high expectations.
This book did exceed my expectations, but it also completely subverted them. It went in a completely different direction than I thought it would.
Look at this cover. Look at that title. What does that look like? It looks like a cute romance, right? Or maybe some kind of angsty young-adult coming-of-age story? Both are things I like, by the way. But that's what this book is, right?
This. is. a. work. of. LITERATURE. This is like actual literary fiction. It's kind of groundbreaking. And I think it deserves a better cover than two conventionally attractive young adults. I seriously hope high schools are studying this book nowadays, because it's so much more than a book about young boys falling in love, or coming out as gay, or anything else. It's a book that indicates a lot about the construction of literature, and it could exemplify a lot about perspective and point-of-view.
This book is told from a third-person omniscient point of view, but it's also told through the plural first person. What?! I know! I've never read a book that does that before.
Let me break that down a little. So, throughout the book, the narrator is "we." It's implied that this book is narrated by a collective group of men who all died of AIDS in the 80s and 90s. They are looking at the world from the afterlife, and they're observing the interactions of four different pairs of guys who are forming relationships. The central pair, Craig and Harry, are trying to set the world record for the longest kiss (over 32 hours), and all the other characters come together through the spectacle of the world-record kiss.
However, even though the narrator is "we," the narrator is also omniscient; it understands what each character in the book is thinking and feeling, so we get every perspective. I'd say the narration in this book is comparable to a Greek chorus.
It's been theorized that third-person omniscient narration went out of style as people started to rely less on religion as a pillar of society. So, lots of books written hundreds of years ago have omniscient narration, because the reader base at the time all believed that the world was controlled by one god, so omniscience was a core part of everyone's understanding of the world. As more religious sects broke apart, and the idea of atheism and agnosticism rose, people stopped thinking in terms of omniscience; they just weren't as familiar with the concept. As a result, book narrators who were both removed from the story and had every character's perspective started to feel less authentic, and first-person (or third-person limited) became a much more common way to write. It remains that way.
This book manages to be both omniscient AND in first-person. And it's in first-person PLURAL. This is an incredible feat in terms of writing.
The plot is great, too, and the characters are all lovable and wonderful, and if you like books of any kind you'll love this.
But I can't get over the POV, because it's just amazing me. I'm now going to study everything David Levithan has ever done as a writer, because that man has skills.
Did you read this book? What did you think of it?
I'll be back next week with more Pride Month book reviews!