by David Levithan
“But there’s something about her—the cities on her shoes, the flash of bravery, the unnecessary sadness—that makes me want to know what the word will be when it stops being a sound. I have spent years meeting people without ever knowing them, and on this morning, in this place, with this girl, I feel the faintest pull of wanting to know. And in a moment of either weakness or bravery on my own part, I decide to follow it. I decide to find out more.”
"A" wakes up every day in a different body. He (for the sake of clarity I will call him a he) is fully himself, but can access the memories of the person he is inhabiting. He has lived this way all his life. He doesn't know where he is from, who his family is, or even what gender he is. He gets powerful glimpses into the lives of thousands of people, but never has a thread of continuity that he can call his own life. No touchstone that is consistent each day. He has learned to adapt. To go with the flow. To not disrupt the world. Until he meets this girl.
This book was incredible! Levithan, like A, is able to jump into the lives of dozens of very different people, in very different situations and each life is complex and fleshed out. You wish, like A, that you could linger with these stories that he passes briefly through to discover what happens to them: the gay man having doubts about his boyfriend, the girl who might commit suicide, the boy trapped in a home-schooled fundamentalist family, the girl who was in a drunk driving accident (and lots of happy ones too, but those were the most interesting).
The meat of the story comes in the questions the story wrestles with. If you were gifted or cursed with this life, how should you use it? Should you respect the life of the person and just live an uneventful day? Should you try to change their lives for the better? Should you say "fuck them" and try to live your own life through that person?
A makes all of these choices as he tries to find Rhiannon from day to day, each day greeting her in a different body. As she discovers his liminal state, other questions rise to the surface: Can you love someone who is always changing their face, a boy one day and a girl the next, sexy on Tuesday, and then not at all your type on Wednesday? What if you can't make plans for the next day, much less long term, since you don't know where or who they will be? Can a relationship survive? Is it fair?
And what happens when one of the people you inhabit wakes up the next morning and remembers that his body was taken over by something else?
Excellent questions wrapped in a compelling, beautiful, tender, heart-breaking prose as the lives of the people he inhabits begin to counterpoint the life that he wants. It leaves me like the end of Joan of Arcadia, and I really want a sequel!