By Dennis Abrams
If, as Beth Kephart said in her keynote address to Publishing Perspectives’ conference, “YA: What’s Next?, “YA books of the future will…be like the best of what is being written and published today. Which is to say intelligent and searching. Original and impassioned. Lit from within and motivated by a desire to start a conversation about what it means to be alive, what it means to choose, what it means to controvert the status quo, what it means to lead, what it means to yearn, what it means to be different, what it means to get along, what it means to take a stand, what it means to hope,” the future is here. For David Levithan’s extraordinary Every Day (Knopf Books for Young Readers) lives up to Kephart’s hope of what YA fiction is capable of doing and being.
Every Day tells the story of A, a 16-year-old who wakes up each morning as a different person (while still remaining “A”), living for just one day in the life and body of a kid of the same age growing up somewhere around Baltimore. For example:
“Today I’m a boy. Skylar Smith. Soccer player, but a star soccer player. Clean room, but not compulsively so. Videogame consol in his room. Ready to wake up. Parents asleep…Soccer practice is the hardest part. The coach keeps calling out names, and I have to access like crazy to figure out who everyone is. It’s not Skylar’s best day at practice, but he doesn’t embarrass himself.”
“Kelsea Cook’s mind is a dark place. Even before I open my eyes, I know this. Her mind is an unquiet one, words and thoughts and impulses constantly crashing into each other. My own thoughts try to assert themselves within this noise. The body responds by breaking into a sweat. I try to remain calm, but the body conspires against that, tries to drown me in distortion.
It’s not usually this bad, first thing in the morning. If it’s this bad now, it must be pretty bad at all times.”
“Even before I open my eyes, I like Vic. Biologically female, gendered male. Living within the definition of his own truth, just like me. He knows who he wants to be. Most people our age don’t have to do that. They stay within the realm of the easy. If you want to live within the definition of your own truth, you have to choose to go through the initially painful and ultimately comforting process of finding it.”
I wake up the next morning in Beyonce’s body.
Not the real Beyonce. But a body remarkably like hers. All the curves in the right places.
I open my eyes to a blur. I reach for the glasses on the nightstand, but they’re not there. So I stumble into the bathroom and put in my contact lenses.
Then I look in the mirror.
I am not pretty. I am not beautiful.
I’m top-to-bottom gorgeous.
A has grown accustomed to his/her somewhat unusual existence, accepting the fact of always being alone, of never having friends, parents, lovers — all that comes with having a permanent existence. But when A falls in love with a beautiful girl named Rhianna (while residing for the day in the body of her boyfriend Justin, who doesn’t truly appreciate her), everything changes. From that point on, no matter who A is, no matter how he/she appears to the world, A does everything possible to spend one another day with Rhianna, breaking the rules that have governed his/her existence, leading to disastrous consequences.
It is a book that asks the questions that every teen (as well as every adult) who has ever lived asks themselves: who am I? What is the real me? Why doesn’t my outside reflect who I am inside? What is love, does it matter who I love and what am I being loved for? — while telling a story that’s beautiful, exciting, romantic, moral, and ultimately, very real and very heartbreaking. Wondering what to buy that young adult on your holiday shopping list? Wonder no more. Every Day has the potential, for the right reader, to be life-changing.