I didn’t buy Two Boys Kissing. I picked it up from a batch of books someone was getting rid of. Ooh, David Levithan, I thought, I loved Every Day, let’s give this a go. And so it sat in my TBR pile, the way books you didn’t exactly choose do, until the day when it somehow seemed to be the one thing that might be what I wanted to read.
The two boys of the title are Craig and Harry. They’re attempting to set the world record for the longest kiss. They’re not a couple, but they used to be. As they stand lip to lip on the lawn in front of their school for thirty-two hours, twelve minutes and ten seconds, we hear the story of their relationships with each other and with all the people who are part of their lives, and we hear the stories of other gay teens: happy couples, desperate loners, the takers of tentative first steps. They’re beautiful and uplifting and gut-wrenchingly sad, these stories. Fiction is about feeling empathy, they say, and how David Levithan makes you empathise.
But here’s the thing. He doesn’t just give us this snapshot of what is means to be a gay teen today. Two Boys Kissing has a chorus. The generation who died from AIDS-related illnesses are watching. We hear their lament for their own lives, a history of the whole tragic disaster of AIDS, and we see the guardian-angel care they lavish on the kids of today, pride and empathy and concern and awful powerlessness. It’s unsettling at first, it’s not what we’re used to, this third-person plural narrative voice, but it doesn’t take long to make sense of it, and to accept the swoop of these angels from character to character, from the present to the past. Clever bloke, David Levithan. Daring.
I loved Two Boys Kissing. It has important things to say, about being gay and also about being different and about accepting difference in other people even when you don’t understand it. And of course I cried.