Thursday, 25 July 2013

Every Day, by David Levithan

Every Day is the story of A. Every day, A wakes up in a new body. Every day, A has to start again, to access the body’s memories, to learn the basics of who this person is, to walk a day in their shoes, blending in with their life and their lifestyle. It’s just the way A is, the way A has always been. A has accepted that this is simply the way his/her life works, but when A wakes up in the body of Justin he meets Rhiannon, Justin’s girlfriend, and everything changes. Even as A creates the perfect day for Rhiannon, and falls in love, he/she knows that tomorrow will bring another body, another town. Will A be able to hold onto her?

This book is a thoroughly modern and thoroughly excellent love story that keeps readers questioning and asks us all who we really are. David Levithan is an author who doesn’t flinch away from subjects that for many other writers and publishers are taboo, or that are tiptoed around within carefully constructed lines. He captures all the emotions of growing up and being alive, whether of being in love or struggling with simple, every day things, all whilst subtly and quietly opening his readers to new ways of thinking. His writing and stories are open, non-judging and equal, simply showing the world as it is – or as it should be. A contemporary of John Green, Levithan’s latest offering surely cannot fail to grip and engage teen and adult readers alike.

As A jumps from body to body, not knowing why or how, he/she experiences a multitude of perspectives, of ways of being and ways of living. Boy, girl, heterosexual, homosexual, high, sober, depressed, addicted, religious, agnostic, rich, poor, beautiful, ugly, sporty, geeky, smart, slow, mean, kind, selfish, selfless. The only thing missing, really, are bodies with disabilities – A mentions being in a body that was blind once, but it’s not really something experienced within the confines of these particular pages.

The main concept that sticks out, though, is that of gender. A has no gender, and this can actually be quite difficult to get your head around. A spends pretty much just as much time being a girl as being a boy, and is equally comfortable in either shoes. In fact, it’s such a normal thing for A to switch gender on a daily basis that it isn’t even a thought, an issue, a concern. But for someone who is acclimatized to the concept of male and female, it’s very difficult to not try and pin a gender on A. My instinct is to think of A as a boy – albeit an extremely well-adjusted boy who can also think like a girl. Why is this? Is it because in the first chapter A is in a boy’s body? Because A is in love with a girl (or a being that lives inside a girl’s body)? Or because the book is written by a man?

There is also the question of whether or not what a person looks like from the outside has any impact on who they are on the inside. Most people strongly believe that appearance shouldn’t matter, but more often than not, when it comes to practice over principal it can be very hard not to take the outside of a person into account.

Once Rhiannon learns A’s truth, they begin to meet every few days or so, A in a different body each time. Although she knows who A is inside, she naturally responds very differently to each body that A shows up in. Studies have shown that the chemical make-up of a body – pheromones, etc – do influence how we react to different people, but Levithan’s attempt to strip all of this away and focus just on the personality is really interesting. Rhiannon, for instance. I don’t recall Levithan ever giving us a full description of her – I couldn’t tell you what colour her skin is, her hair, whether she is short tall, large or skinny. Instead, Levithan shows her to us through abstract details – the emotions she exudes through her body language, the type of shoes she is wearing. Not knowing her physical description makes her no less real to me as a reader, no less interesting or emotional or worthy.

In essence, Every Day is a love story. But there are many other questions here waiting to be answered. What makes us human? What makes us the same and what makes us different? A doesn’t have a body, so does this mean he/she isn’t human? As the story progresses, A and Rhiannon not only begin to face some tough decisions about their relationship, but A is pursued by Nathan, a boy who’s body A lived in for a day, and the mysterious Reverend, both of whom begin to question who A is, and what he/she is capable of. Because, after all, is A the only person to exist like this? What if there are others?

A does show us that bodies have a mind of their own sometimes, that a body’s chemical make-up has an impact on who we are and what type of personality we might have – it’s not the be-all and end-all, but it’s a contributing factor.  Personally, I do believe this is the case, but if A does not have his/her own body then how has he/she become the person he/she has become? Perhaps only because A knows that every body responds to the world and to it’s own chemical structure in a different way; perhaps the fact that A has experienced 6000 different bodies is as much of a determining factor to who he/she is as the experience of just my one body is in who I am. What, then, does living in 6000 different bodies mean? Having tasted a little bit of everything does this make A the most average a person can be?

A book that kept me turning the page to find out who A would be the next day, and the next day, and the next day.

[Interested in gender equality? Please read Maureen Johnson’s ‘coverflip’ discussion on her blog and gender coverup article in the Huffington Post, where she highlights questions surrounding boy books, girl books, boy covers, girl covers, and gender misperceptions.]

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