Following a homophobic attack on one of their high school classmates, seventeen-year-olds Harry and Craig are two ex-boyfriends (and current best friends) on a mission: they plan to break the world record for longest recorded kiss. They get the okay to do it on the lawn of their campus, and it’s game on: they’ll have to kiss for at least thirty-two hours, twelve minutes, and ten seconds, and they’ll have to do it standing.
Meanwhile, a blue-haired boy named Ryan and a pink-haired transsexual boy named Avery have just met at a gay prom; they’ve clicked and are tentatively working out what happens next. In another town, longtime teen couple Peter and Neil are going through their relationship ups and downs. And in yet another town, terrified Cooper is keeping his sexuality a closely guarded secret and acting out in unhealthy ways as a result.
Narrating it all — rejoicing in the strides made in the past couple of decades and commiserating over the painful things that have yet to change — is a chorus of gay men who lost their lives to AIDS:
You can’t know what it is like for us now — you will always be one step behind.
Be thankful for that.
You can’t know what it was like for us then — you will always be one step ahead.
Be thankful for that, too.
Trust us: There is a nearly perfect balance between the past and the future. As we become the distant past, you become a future few of us would have imagined.
While there are breaks in the narrative, there are no chapters in Two Boys Kissing. All of the stories are weaved together and flow continuously, with the narrators dividing their attention among the different stories in the book.
The concept of narrators From Beyond has the potential to go terribly awry, and Levithan put himself even further out on a limb with this book by juggling so many perspectives. Luckily, he handled it beautifully; I can’t imagine this book being written any other way. By turning the men who died of AIDS into a collective of narrators, Levithan added an extra layer of history and nuance to the book without being heavy-handed. That generation of men who died could not have conceived of things like a gay prom, or two boys kissing at their school as half a million people watched online worldwide, or having support from parents and doctors as you transition from female to male in your teen years.
And yet they can understand — they know only too well — what it is like to be terrified of your parents finding out the truth about you (as two of the boys experience), and falling in love for the first time, and falling out of love for the first time, and finding release by dancing at clubs, and dying to be old enough to escape from your miserable small-town life, and drowning in despair because you feel like no one will ever accept you. The narrators are amazed by the progress, at times heartbroken that they can’t be there to experience it in the flesh, and devastated when they witness things happening that could have been prevented. This last thing is particularly galling to them, considering how many people had to die of AIDS before the president even bothered to utter the word (it took Reagan six years to acknowledge the epidemic).
Levithan’s book is a beautiful ode to the past while offering commentary on love, acceptance, and contemporary society. I got teary several times while reading it. It’s such a moving book, and I’m so glad it exists in the world.
Two Boys Kissing was published in August 2013 by Knopf Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House.