by Michael Ann Dobbs / io9.com
There have been plenty of young-adult novels about young people searching for their identity — literally or figuratively. But few have taken the concept as far as Every Day, the new young-adult novel from David Levithan, the co-author of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. This is a coming-of-age story that manages to pack some age-old philosophical questions about selfhood and the body into an unconventional love story.
In Every Day, A is an identity without a body. Each day, A wakes up in a new body of another 16 year-old. A has almost none of the usual markers of identity: A is genderless, sexless, without race or eye color, neither attractive nor unattractive. A takes these qualities from the bodies A inhabits. While A has access to the bodies’ memories, A experiences the world differently from the individuals he or she inhabits. And A has no control over whose body he or she will end up in tomorrow. A has, over the years, developed a sort of moral code built primarily around a strict non-interference policy. Which all comes crashing down when A wakes up in the body of Justin and falls in love with Justin’s girlfriend Rhiannon.
A tries to stay in touch with Rhiannon, which is difficult when A is different person each day. Eventually A tells Rhiannon the truth about his or her existence. From there, the book focuses on the young couple’s struggles to establish a relationship, when A is never sure who he or she will be tomorrow. A’s experiences as all these different people could have been nothing more than vignettes, but A’s love for Rhiannon and desire to see her again is in the background of each of these lives, complicating everything A does.
There are plenty of signs that the book could have turned into a more run-of-the-mill thriller about a unique supernatural being discovering its race or some other ridiculous plot. Luckily, Levithan stuck to the love story. He also uses the first person — thus avoiding the unfortunate “he or she” that I’ve used above. The book has an overall dreamy, fantastic quality that fits A’s wise beyond his or her years personality. While many of the daily episodes and interactions are very grounded, together they add up to something poetic. A’s life is, necessarily, deeply internal and this is reflected in the language.
One of the things I loved about the book was it defies easy labels just as much as A does. It’s a contemporary YA romance, but it’s also not just a romance book. It’s a fantasy book, in that there is no technology or rational scientific explanation for A’s existence or ability to move between bodies, but it’s not like any other fantasy books. It’s like a science-fiction book, to the extent that it’s about big difficult-to-answer questions, explored through an incredible narrative, but again there’s no tech or science. It’s just a unique lovely book about young love and identity, wrapped up in the impossible.
This isn’t necessarily Levithan’s first venture into speculative fiction — his poetic novel Boy Meets Boy takes place in what could only be described as an alternate or near future universe in which the school’s popular, quarterback is also a drag queen — but he is better known for his co-authoring of realistic teen fiction like the aforementioned Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. He was also involved in editing The Hunger Games. In fact, he’s probably the busiest person in YA fiction. Aside from writing and editing, he also organizes readings and teaches in the Writing for Children program at The New School (where, full disclosure, I had him as a professor).