Everyday, A wakes up in someone else's body. Sometimes a boy, sometimes a girl, spanning a range of lifestyles and locations, but always someone new. A has to be careful because 24 hours in another person's body doesn't allow for close connections. Then one day, A wakes up in Justin's body and falls for the teen's long-suffering, unappreciated girlfriend, Rhiannon. Breaking the rules of an admittedly complicated life, A makes the decision to pursue Rhiannon despite being trapped in an ever-changing parade of other people's bodies.
If it sounds complicated, that's because it is. David Levithan has come up with a fascinating premise and an interesting way to examine subjects such as love, gender identity, and -- in the words of Jonathan Larson -- connection in an isolating age. I certainly subscribe to more liberal notions of gender and love: do whatever you wanna do and be whatever you wanna be as long as you're not inflicting harm on others and you let me do the same. The philosophical conceit of this book didn't bother me and I was willing to engage in some serious suspension of disbelief, but Levithan didn't completely win me over. It felt as though he created his character and then built the rules of his magical-realism universe to fit the story instead of creating the rules and seeing how the character develops out of them. The former feels too convenient to me, whereas the latter allows for greater character development and a more organic interaction between the characters and the constructed universe.
What was a much larger problem for me, though, was that I just couldn't get in to Rhiannon as the object of romantic desire. There seemed to be little reason for A to fall in love with her, and it just sort of happened instantaneously. I know it's a book written about teenagers, but characters should fall in love for a reason other than "because they met." I understand that Levithan didn't have time to let the feelings simmer over time because of the constraints of A's situation. Still, I feel like there must have been some way to write the story so that A has continued contact with Rhiannon -- maybe he can't stop thinking about her and some time later he wakes up in the body of another of her classmates -- and thus a legitimate reason to want to be with her.
Instead A loves Rhiannon because she is a wounded girl, falling somewhere short of terminal on the manic-pixie scale, who loves Justin unquestioningly despite the fact that he is emotionally closed off and makes her feel like crap. A is the only one who senses her sadness and thus wants to save her, in a cliche that has always made me kind of stabby. Yes, girls should absolutely realize that boys who make them feel like crap aren't worth their devotion but I dislike the notion that girls in relationships like that are damsels in need of rescuing. Let them be their own heroes, dammit. A may not be the typical, masculine knight in shining armor, but Rhiannon is still a cliched damsel in distress.
Levithan is a great writer and I've enjoyed many of his other works. And while I think it's important to create literature that presents gender and sexuality as a flexible spectrum, I worry that Levithan's desire to hammer home the message outweighed his storytelling abilities.