I managed to finish reading my book for Banned Books Week after all! Largely because in addition to being relatively short (it is YA), the last section of the book is one of those things where I couldn’t close the book again after I reached it until I’d finished reading the book. Anyway, allow me to introduce you to one of last year’s top ten most banned/challenged books:
The cover photo is actually pretty misleading, in that one of the two boys is visibly taller than the other, and the text makes a point of saying that they’re the same height, making their challenge easier. Oh, wait, I should talk about the book, not the cover! It’s just something that really struck me suddenly about the cover image, and I had to point it out.
All right, so the book itself. Probably the first thing anyone says about this book — though it’s not in the official blurb on the dust jacket, interestingly — is that it’s narrated by a Greek chorus of gay men who have died of AIDS. And it really is, except that in a true Greek drama, the characters on stage can and do interact with the chorus, and the chorus has no idea exactly what’s going on in the characters’ heads. The “we” narrating this novel — and I think this is the only work I’ve ever encountered with a first person plural narrative voice, btw –know what the characters are thinking and feeling, not because they have some omniscience, but because they’ve been there, having lived through so many of the things these boys are going through, but no matter how much they shout at the boys, no matter how much they try to interfere, they can’t, because they’re dead. It’s both a mournful narrative voice and also a supremely powerful and even rejoicing one, because while they’re gone and so many of their friends are gone with them, some of their friends are still around, and — much more importantly — the new generation is starting from a better place, with more chance of being accepted by their family and friends. As to why these men are narrating our tale, I’ll let them give you an idea of that in their own words:
We no longer sleep, and because we no longer sleep, we no longer dream. Instead we watch. We don’t want to miss a thing.
You have become our dreaming.
While our narrators can turn their gaze at anyone they want, they choose to show us a handful of gay teens over the course of a weekend. The two boys of the title, Craig and Harry, are preparing to break the World Record for longest kiss, which will require them to kiss for 32 hours, 12 minutes and 10 seconds. Because they’re doing it to make a statement — both defiant and naïve, typically teenage — they got permission to do it on the front lawn of their high school, with their friends running cameras to livestream it onto the Internet, and teachers to act as witnesses. There are also Neil and Peter, a close couple, Ryan and Avery, who only just met at the beginning and hit it off right away, and Cooper, whose story may have grabbed me more than anyone else’s, along with Tariq, a friend of Craig and Harry and whose story gets largely subsumed into Craig and Harry’s. Some of these boys are out to their friends and family, a few aren’t, and one of them is a trans boy, making his life infinitely more complicated. Some of the other boys get sucked into the drama around the big kiss, and others remain oblivious to it, caught up in their own lives as most people are most of the time.