He’s pretty amazing, right?
Honestly, his books pretty much send me spiraling into fangirl glee. Boy Meets Boy gets most of the accolades, and rightly so. It’s a lovely and wonderful book, joyful and hopeful. But for my money, Wide Awake is not only his best book but one of the best novels I’ve ever read. It’s hopeful in a different way, a love story to possibility and to connection.
Wide Awake is set “in the near future,” on the eve of the election of the first gay Jewish president of the United States, and Duncan Weiss is proud and happy and a part of it all. But Stein, the president elect, won the election by one state’s worth of electoral votes, and in a move reminiscent of the 2000 presidential election, the opponent’s party calls the results into question.
The world of the book isn’t an ideal America. It’s an America that’s worked hard to make strides towards equality and justice but still has a long way to go, and Duncan, his boyfriend Jimmy and their friends, like every teenager before them, have to figure out when they should stand up, how they should make themselves heard and what they have to say.
So why is this book awesome? Sure, Levithan is a genius writer, but what I loved best about this book is that he so clearly captures the struggle teens face in figuring out what they believe, to what lengths they will go to support their beliefs, and how to integrate their beliefs about politics, life, love and friendship must all fit together into a life.
Against the background of a momentous political decision, Duncan and Jimmy have to figure out how to navigate the first serious bumps that arise in their relationship. What happens when idealism and reality meet, and what happens when they clash? What happens when one person’s expectations, realistic or not, fair or not, are not met? What happens when they are met? What happens when we grow up?
I love the many facets of this story. I read this book shortly before the 2008 presidential election, and though I was long out of my adolescence, that election marked the first time I got caught up in the process, the first time I allowed myself to hope that things really could change, that they really were changing. Wide Awake tapped into those feelings of hope.
As an adult reading this novel, I had to try and do the math and see if I how old I would be in the course of these events, and I figured out that I would be a sassy senior citizen (or maybe a cool high school librarian like Ms. Kaye), and that my little cousins, who are 5 and 3, would be about the age of the president. So, if I want my cousins to have the opportunities to be a president like Stein (or however they choose live), me and my fellow adults, we have a lot of work to do and a lot of changes to make. And I hope the teens who read this book can take some encouragement from Duncan and his friends as they navigate paths between the comparatively small worlds of their adolescence and the greater social and political worlds in which they find themselves to become the really cool adults who round out the secondary characters, not the jerk faced losers who still exist.
I could rhapsodize about this book endlessly, but really, just read it.
Debra is an assistant librarian, grad student, fledgling blogger and wanna-be teacher. She blogs about her reading at Library Lass (Adventures in Reading), and is @threelefthands on Twitter (but mostly just to see what shenanigans @maureenjohnson and @realjohngreen are up to).