Every Day, by David Levithan

Every now and then, you come across a book—a book you don’t want to put down, a book that changes the way you look at things, a book that when you’re through with it you’re both upset that it’s over but overjoyed with what you got from it. I recently read a book like that: Every Day, by David Levithan.

I’ve known about this book for two years now. The school where I teach assigns summer reading books like any other school, but one of the books is read by the entire student body. Books are suggested to the English department, they’re screened, and then three to five titles are presented for students to vote. For the summer of 2013, Every Day was one of the finalists—and the book I personally voted for based on the intriguing premise. Unfortunately, it didn’t win, and we read something else, but good things are worth the wait. I’m glad I finally got around to reading it.

The story is narrated by the main character who simply goes by the name A. A has this unusual condition, causing A to wake up every morning in a different body. On any given day, A could be anyone—male, female, tall, short, white, black, Asian, Hispanic, straight, gay, athletic, slackerish, stunning, addicted. The only “rules” that seem to exist about A’s condition is that the person is about the same age in the same geographic area, and that A will never return to same body.

This may sound somewhat like the premise of the 80s/90s sci-fi TV series Quantum Leap. In that show, the main character Dr. Sam Beckett jumps from body to body through different times, but Beckett stays in the body until he (usually) positively assists that person’s life. A’s trips into other bodies are much more temporary, and A adopts a philosophy of non-interference, somewhat like a tourist absorbing different cultures.

Until the day A wakes up in Justin’s body and meets Justin’s girlfriend Rhiannon.

The first chapter of the book (Day 5994—A’s been doing this about sixteen and a half years) is perhaps the strongest opening chapter I’ve ever read. We meet A and learn about A’s unique life. We learn that A can access the memories of the host brain to navigate a regular day of high school. We meet Rhiannon and see how she responds to Justin—A has become quite adept at reading body language—and it appears that Rhiannon has been in a long-term, somewhat complicated, perhaps not the best relationship with Justin. Enraptured by Rhiannon, A brushes aside the non-interference policy and asks her to ditch school to go to the beach. The behavior is seemingly out of character for Justin, and Rhiannon enjoys herself. The chapter was fun and funny and romantic—and ultimately heartbreaking because A won’t be in Justin’s body the next morning, and Rhiannon won’t understand why Justin isn’t behaving the same way again.

A finds ways to see Rhiannon again, and the story becomes a touching, uplifting, sad, and tragic love story. There are so many things I want to say about the plot, but I don’t want to give away anything. Readers need to experience it for themselves.

This is an amazing book for several reasons, and it poses many philosophical questions. Does A have the right to inconvenience, alter, or derail people’s lives (even if only for a day) for personal gain? Should A interfere in someone’s life when discovering the host is planning to harm others or even themselves? Can love truly be blind? Having spent time in bodies male and female, straight and gay, A claims to have fallen for both boys and girls along the way. That’s a powerful statement because it indicates that who you love should be based on the person they are.

But is love really blind? A can easily profess love for Rhiannon, but she has a harder time with A because the host body is always changing. Sure, we love the people we love because of who they are on the inside, but isn’t there always an external factor? Maybe the person you love becomes more externally beautiful because you love them, but it’s a relatively static external. As much as you would still love someone if they were scarred or lost a limb, would it be the same love if they were in a completely different body that you weren’t physically attracted to? These combined themes of identity and love are amongst the deep strengths of the book.

The narration is also a strength. This book would not work in any other point of view than first person from A. It is that reason why I hope the book is not made into a movie. In a visual medium, we latch onto characters differently than in a book. Though A describes each new body, we know the voice is always A—even when A wakes up one morning to observe “I am Beyonce” (not really, but in a similarly—shall I say—bootylicious way). I doubt the consistency of character would work on screen.

Also, I have to give commendation to author Levithan’s choice of characters for A to wake up in and precisely when A wakes up inside them. Sometimes, it helps A learn more about the host’s after-effects, such as one day when A is one twin brother and the other twin the next day. Sometimes, it helps and/or hinders A being with Rhiannon—both for excellent plot construction returns. But most of all, there’s one chapter about midway in the book (Day 6015) where A wakes up as someone that both surprised me when it happened—and thrilled me as another author that Levithan actually went there. And it was a brilliant chapter.

If I had to find any fault with this book, it’s that the villain character (revealed later in the book) needs a little more development. I understand the villain’s function in the plot and how it ultimately affects the resolution of the story—and I absolutely love the ending of this book for what it says about how deeply loving someone affects your choices—but I would have liked just a little more detail.

This is no way diminishes my enjoyment of the book. In fact, I am placing it in my Top 10 books of all time—a list that may become a future blog post. I laughed, I cried, I got angry, but most of all I thought as I read this. For a unique way to tell a tale of love and identity, for strong character development (barring one minor exception), for a tight plot, and for the inability to give it six or more stars on most reviewing sites, I enthusiastically give Every Day FIVE STARS. Though it is a Young Adult book, all adults and teens should give this exceptional book a read.

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Every Day is available at Amazon.

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