Monday, August 11, 2008

Are You Awake?

With the Democratic National Convention coming to my hometown later this month, I felt the need to review something political. Most folks I know are just trying to figure out ways to avoid downtown Denver, but no one here can deny that politics seem to be permeating everything these days.

Wide Awake by David Levithan isn’t about the United States’ current political situation, but is set in a near future where many pieces of the political landscape have changed—changed enough that a gay Jewish man, Abraham Stein, has been elected president. The events that unfold following election day are recounted by Duncan, a gay 17-year-old high school student who has been volunteering for the Stein campaign along with his boyfriend Jimmy and various other folks from his school and town. When the governor of Kansas declares that he believes that Stein’s opponent really won in his state and starts a recount there, Stein supporters from all over the country are called to action, urged to come to Kansas and make a stand for their beliefs and for the true results of the election to be upheld.

Within a larger political context, this is Duncan’s very personal story of figuring out what he believes in and how far he’s willing to go to make a stand for those beliefs. When Duncan’s parents forbid him from going to Kansas, his relationship with Jimmy suffers. Jimmy sees Duncan as weak for not standing up to them, and Duncan worries that he might be right. Duncan eventually decides to make the journey anyway, and accept the consequences, and the experiences he has and the people he meets are reminders of why everyone needs to pay attention, be aware, and be thoughtfully engaged. Reading about his parents’ fears about what could happen to Duncan in Kansas, you may question your own convictions, and what choices you might make in a similar situation.

Though I wouldn’t classify Wide Awake as a science fiction or fantasy novel, there are elements of s/f world building here that I found fun, references to how the world got into the state that made the events of the book (including Stein's election) possible. The Greater Depression. The War to End All Wars. Bottled water being sold for $30, “which is twice as much as they normally charge”. The “Jesus Revolution”, in which many Christians have come to realize that Jesus really wouldn’t have wanted to alienate any group of people, a movement whose goal is true equality for everyone (the “Decents” take the role of today’s religious right). The teens central to this book have grown up with a constant threat of terrorism, but also have new avenues for hope, including Stein’s candidacy and his message of the “Greater Community." Kids in this world celebrate by “unshopping” at the “unmall”—an experience that combines the social activity of going to the mall with donating money to their favorite charities. It’s a slightly different world, one with seemingly more possibilities for making a difference. Wide Awake is a great reminder that the personal and the political are intertwined, sometimes in surprising ways.

David Levithan has written several other novels and short story collections (he’s edited many as well), and cowritten several novels with Rachel Cohn. Check out his site or MySpace page for more information about his other books.


BookChic said...

Great review- I loved this book too. :) I think David's books really provide this hopeful outlook to how society will hopefully be soon (although hopefully without the Greater Depression and things like that to get there).

Loved your thoughts! :)

Colleen said...

This book impressed the heck out of me - nice to see it here!