Guest Post: A Sort-Of Review of a Book I Kind-Of Did Not Read

This guest post was written by Isaiah Vianese. Isaiah is a poet and writing instructor in New York. You can read his blog and selected poems here.

For two months, I promised Melanie that I would finish David Levithan’s Wide Awake and write a review. At first, I gave excuses—other books to review, dinner dates, and so on. Then I gave the old, “Oh, I’m taking my time…” Frankly, I did not like the book and could not bring myself to say it. I just couldn’t finish it. Why the charade? Well, it has something to do with diminishing returns and how every good artist falls from our pedestals. Being a fan is a cruel thing.

Levithan’s Wide Awake (or at least the portion I slogged through) suffers from a frustrating trend among his lesser works.  The man—no matter how charming or well intentioned—often takes on more than he can handle in his slim novels; he is not a graceful writer of political narratives. Wide Awake takes on, among other topics, the election of a gay Jewish president, the curing of AIDS, advancements in technology, and a counter leftist religious movement for tolerance to rival the religious right’s championing of hate. All of this is introduced in the first forty pages, only to become a whirlwind of loose ends. The root of this problem is that the novel is set in the future, and so Levithan needs to catch us up on all that we have yet to experience in his idealized vision of the future. Rather than carefully constructing this possible America, he drops in details at random, creating a difficult barrier of entry to the novel.

Levithan’s strength is his ability to construct sweet romantic scenarios. It is this quality of his work that captured my interest in Boy Meets Boy and the exquisite John Green collab, Will Grayson, Will Grayson. These novels are not overtly political in nature, but are about teenage guys falling in and out of love. They work because the message of the books is secondary to telling stories about likable characters fumbling toward happiness. I was so endeared to the emotional resonance of these novels that discovering much of Levithan’s other work falls short of this quality has been difficult. Good art makes you hunger for more of its kind, and the inevitable disappointment we all face as readers, movie-goers, and music fans can create a sad resentment; just visit Goodreads and YouTube for evidence.

So where do I go from here? Well, on to a new book—one I hope I like enough to finish. Eventually, I will wind back around to Levithan, and I hope he keeps writing and following his muse. I still have good feelings for his few truly great novels, and I can wait until he writes another one. Until then, I will keep reading; gems are out there, and I just have to find them.

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