David Levithan’s previous novels have established him in the front rank of contemporary writers and earned him what seems to be a permanent place on the New York Times bestseller list. This record is a well- earned one. His most recent work, “Two Boys Kissing,” however goes far beyond his previous accomplishments and can be given no lesser accolade than ‘masterpiece.
It is a beautifully written story, haunting and elegiac— at once a story of hope and joy as well as of brooding sadness and loss, it focuses on Harry and Craig, two high school students who decide to protest a recent hate crime with a public affirmation of love: breaking the Guinness world record for the longest continuous kiss. The kiss lasts thirty two hours, twelve minutes and ten seconds and a great deal can happen in that time including outraged parents, haters and sheer exhaustion. The stories of other boys are intertwined in the tale. There’s Ryan and transgendered Avery who discover their own romance. Peter and Neil have a long term relationship with problems of their own. Cooper, a runaway finds himself in an increasingly desperate situation.
All of these lines are expertly woven together through a first- person plural narration by observers who we cannot see or know because they are the spirits of a previous generation of gay men who have died young of AIDS. The pain and longing of these voices— men who should have been here to serve as mentors and role models for the boys but who now can only watch and hope is perhaps the most profound element in this book and it is the part that, having been a survivor of that generation myself, that brought me to unashamed tears. As a concept, it reminded me of the scene in Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” where Marley’s ghost opens Scrooge’s window and shows him the legion of spirits lamenting over the suffering of the living that they were now powerless to help. Levithan’s narrators however are even more poignant in that their helplessness is through no fault of their own but because of the plague and we know that, had they lived, they could have done so much — helped so much.
The boys must manage on their own though and in this testament to the eternal nature of love and the ultimately unquenchable human spirit, they move mountains. The book is all the more meaningful to New Jersey readers in a very special way: Levithan based the story idea on the very real exploit of Matty Daley (to whom the book is dedicated) and Bobby Canciello, two students at The College of New Jersey who in 2010 indeed did break the Guinness world record for the longest kiss, lasting thirty two hours, thirty minutes and forty-five seconds. The story of their dedication and perseverance inspired David Levithan to produce a work that should be considered an immediate classic and a permanent contribution to literature. As David wrote, “This is the power of a kiss: it does not have the power to kill you but it has the power to bring you to life.”
“Two Boys Kissing” will bring you to life.