Heartbreaking, hopeful and so relevant
Two Boys Kissing is an utterly unique novel, not only in its structure but in its innovative exploration of LGBTQI+ issues. The book is narrated from the perspective of a Greek Chorus of a generation of gay men who perished from AIDS, which increased the poignancy and the impact of the novel.
Two Boys Kissing is based on true events and follows the story of Harry and Craig, two seventeen year old ex-boyfriends who attempt to break the Guinness World Record of the world’s longest kiss: 32 hours, 12 minutes and 10 seconds. While Harry and Craig fight sleep-deprivation, dehydration and pain across their bodies from standing for hours on end, six other boys in nearby towns take inspiration from their story. There’s Neil and Peter, in a long-term relationship that is going nowhere; Avery and Ryan, who meet at a gay prom and are instantly attracted to one another; Cooper, who falls deeper into depression and the poison of gay hook-up sites after his parents’ violent reaction to his accidental coming out; and Tariq, who was the inspiration behind Harry and Craig’s kissing marathon after he was beaten up for his sexuality. Two Boys Kissing explores gender identity, the AIDS epidemic, coming out, and the wide-reaching effects of the LGBTQI+ community.
This novel approaches the many issues facing LGBTQI+ individuals in such a raw and unabashed manner. Questions like: Who am I? Is there something wrong with me? Should I come out? Does anyone love me? Would it be better if I weren’t alive? These problems are undoubtedly experienced by almost every member on the LGBTQI+ spectrum and there was something almost cathartic about reading it on the page, as if Levithan is exclaiming, You are not alone. That is why the inclusion of the Chorus of gay men was the only way a novel such as this could be narrated. I don’t believe the book would have had the same impact if set from the perspective of Craig, or Peter, or Cooper. This book is about the LGBTQI+ and wider community coming together and acknowledging those with differing genders, identities and sexual preferences, and helping them. Much like in the novel, as the generation of gay men that came before were looking over and wanting to protect the generation of gay men that came after.
The narration by the Greek Chorus was a bold decision by Levithan, one that can either make or break the novel for you. I have read a few reviews in which people were exasperated by the Chorus, and, while it took a little while for me to wrap my head around the style of writing, by the conclusion of the novel, I found them an ingenious inclusion and a distinctive technique. The Chorus touched on the problems gay men faced in youth which provided a direct correlation to the issues the main characters were experiencing. The issues LGBTQI+ people face are, after all, timeless. I look forward to the day in which they are no longer.
I was completely enthralled by Levithan’s characters and connected with each of them more than I thought I would have. I think my favourite character was Cooper as his story was so painful and unflinching. Cooper’s parents accidentally discovered he was gay through reading his messages to men of all ages on gay hook-up sites. They reacted terribly and violently, and he fled from them and spent the next 32 hours drifting, alone and desolate.
I adored Harry and Craig’s relationship: even though they were ex-boyfriends, their friendship prevailed so much so that they would do anything for each other. And they did – for 32 hours. There were a few indications that Harry and Craig might develop their friendship into something more after the marathon, and I like to think they would have.
Avery was another favourite character of mine, and a wonderful representation of transgendered people in YA fiction. His revelation was heart-warming, as was Ryan’s reaction. Tariq’s character broke my heart in many ways, especially the description of his attack and subsequent confusion: How did they know I was gay? That scene was touching and frightening all at once.
There were many times I grew angry at the community in this novel: the people who tried to stop Harry and Craig’s world record because they were disgusted and vindictive; the callers on the radio wishing that the seventeen-year-old boys got AIDS as punishment for what they were doing; and the reaction of parents who are supposed to be there for their children no matter what. I was on the brink of tears for many of these scenes, even as their inclusion in the book was topically significant.
Two Boys Kissing was an incredibly relevant and moving novel that sets about bringing people together and educating them on the issues LGBTQI+ people face every day. The hopeful tone of the novel encourages the idea that one day, preferably soon, a world will exist where people of all orientations, genders and identities, can live in peace without subjugation.