Monday, September 10, 2012

Every Day by David Levithan

“I’m just not myself today.” Who among us has not uttered this phrase? As a high school teacher, I have often wondered who inhabited the body of my students on certain days. “This cannot be Rachel,” I would think. Or “Tom doesn’t act like this.” Identity often fluctuates (shout out to Heraclitus…something about a river) during adolescence, as teens try on various personas, searching for a true(r) identity. David Levithan’s new novel, Every Day, turns this notion of a fluctuating identity into a fantastical reality.

“A” has, for every day of his/her life (A has no gender, which is part of what makes the book interesting, but also what makes pronoun choices in a review a hassle), woken up in the body of someone else. Every day, from A’s earliest memory, morning has brought a different human body to contain A’s consciousness. The process is not completely random—the body has always been roughly the same age as A (would consciousness age without a body?), and the body is always in roughly the same geographic area as the previous body. So A might be a boy, a girl, gay, straight, unsure, a transsexual, a drug addict, a model, morbidly obese, suicidal, a jock, a nerd, any of the labels we use to define someone’s identity. But only for that day.

 “You see how cherries taste different to different people. Blue looks different. You see all the strange rituals boys have to show affection without admitting it…You learn how much a day is truly worth, because they’re all so different” (107).

Now sixteen, A has established his/her own version of primum non nocere—first, do no harm. Able to access some of the host’s memories, A tries to live the day without doing anything the host will have to deal with the next day that cannot be covered by “I just wasn’t myself yesterday.” (A’s vessels report only hazy memories of the day A was in control.) Homework is often a breeze; athletics and relationships—not so much. Thus A settles for days that are simple and withdrawn. Simple, that is, until A is in the body of Justin, the sullen boyfriend of the sadly beautiful Rhiannon. A falls for Rhiannon. Falls hard. Falls harder than ever before. Falls hard enough to want to see Rhiannon again, to tell her the truth about the wonderful day at the beach Justin/A and Rhiannon spent together, regardless of the vessel A inhabits the next day. Or the day after that. Cue complications, including being pursued by former vessel Nathan, who has been convinced by the shady Reverend Poole that A is the devil.

Every Day is far more than another clever conceit by Levithan (The Lover’s Dictionary, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist). Yes, you can read it as a moving teenage love story, albeit a love story where one teen exists in a different physical body every day. But Levithan’s novel is much more than that. It raises thoughtful questions about identity, gender, and sexuality. How much of our identity is tied to our gender? To our physical body? Should sexuality be reduced to a hetero/homosexual dichotomy? When we fall in love, what is it about the other we are falling in love with? 

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