Monday, March 24, 2014

Two Boys Kissing by David Leviathan

The blurb:
The two boys kissing are Craig and Harry.  They're hoping to set the world's record for the longest kiss. They're not a couple, but they used to be.

Peter and Neil are a couple.  Their kisses are different.

Avery and Ryan have only just met and are trying to figure out what happens next.  Both of them worry that something will go wrong.

Cooper is alone.  It's getting to the point where he doesn't really feel things anymore.

These boys along with their friends and families, form a tapestry that will reveal love of all kinds: open and eager, tentative and cautious, pained and scared.  New York Times bestselling author David Leviathan has sewn together their lives into a redemptive whole that will captivate, illuminate, and move readers.

I'd received a copy of Two Boys Kissing during BEA last year.  It's a book that I expected to find interesting but had delayed reading.  When I did start the book, I was drawn in and couldn't put it down.  Though a straight woman, I'd grown up quite close to my gay uncle and his friends, so I found myself reading the book in part for myself and in part to share it with my uncle and friends.  Two Boys Kissing was my first exposure to gay literature and it was a wonderful introduction. 

The narrative voice of Two Boys Kissing is a chorus of older gay men, those close to my uncle's ages - men in their mid to late 60s.    It was this voice that drew me to the book and caught my sympathy.  Leviathan acknowledges what it was like to grow up in the time of this older generation and what these "pioneers" might think and say to the young gay men of today.   There is great sympathy, celebration of youth, identity and love.  

The young boys are interesting in their own right.  We read about Korean American Neil and his young boyfriend and best friend Peter.  Peter is out to his family and has an amazing support system.  Neil is not out for most of the book but when he does declare his sexuality, it isn't a surprise to his parents or his sister.  Neil and Peter live near each other in a small town and are comfortable walking to each other's houses, spending much of their waking time together, both in and out of school.  It's a love story that seems comfortable and sweet - and the absence of fear and censure is wonderful. 

Craig and Harry have a much more complicated relationship.  Their breakup was very civil and they'd continued as friends although Craig had a much harder time recovering.  Their mutual determination not to lose touch or to move apart gives their relationship a special tie as well.  It's easy to sympathize with both Harry and Craig and to appreciate how they can continue as close friends throughout their lives - though the chorus and the book doesn't presume to predict that far in advance.  Both Harry and Craig are solid characters, well developed and very sympathetic.    Harry's family is very supportive of his sexuality.  Craig's family learns his secret unexpectedly and it the process of acceptance is painful and difficult - which makes Craig a convincing character.    The book makes you wonder just how supportive people's families are in these situations and how hard it must have been 20 or 30 years ago.

There are the singles in the book that have their own complicated stories.  Two Boys Kissing doesn't shirk from touching on violence, intimidation, what it's like to be the target of hate.   I found the book engrossing, sympathetic and a window into what it might be like to be a young gay man.  I'm sure that there are grittier, sadder accounts but Two Boys Kissing is the sort of book that you could share with both a young man exploring his identity and those who love him and are trying to understand what he might face.

  • ISBN-10: 1405264438 - Paperback $9.95
  • Publisher: Electric Monkey (March 27, 2014), 256 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

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