In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Body surfing

Dear Annie,

Yes, Maine was wonderful.  Kind of quiet this year -- but that means we all did lots of reading.  I'm happy to say I even read a few grown-up books, although as promised I blasted through a bunch of YA and younger ones.

The last one I picked up was
Every Day
, by David Levithan, one of the authors of Will Grayson, Will Grayson (the other author being John Green).  The main character is a self without a body.  S/he wakes up every morning inhabiting someone's body for a day: being able to see that person's memories and knowing the context of the life.  This person -- who refers to him/herself as A ("I needed something pure") -- has been doing this for 16 years.  S/he has grown from inhabiting babies to moving into the bodies of teenagers.
... as a little kid, I thought it was some kind of a game, and my mind learned how to access -- you know, look at the body's memories -- naturally.  So I always knew what my name was, and where I was....
   I wanted friends, a mom, a dad, a dog -- but I couldn't hold on to any of them more than a single day.  It was brutal.  There are nights I remember screaming and crying, begging my parents not to make me go to bed.  They could never figure out what I was afraid of.  They thought it was a monster under the bed, or a way to get a few more bedtime stories.  I could never really explain, not in a way that made sense to them.  I'd tell them I didn't want to say goodbye, and they'd assure me it wasn't goodbye.  It was just goodnight.  I'd tell them it was the same thing, but they thought I was being silly.
By the time of the book, A is accustomed to the body-hopping.  Each of the 41 chapters is a new day, and a new host to adjust to -- A has no control over the destinations.  We get a tour of mostly middle class teenagers in the mid-Atlantic states -- a remarkable number of them have access to a car on school days.  It's a lovely variety of kids with different families, personalities, expectations.  There are two sweet same-sex relationships.  A few of the days are searing: one day s/he is a drug addict, trying to keep the body from getting another fix.  Another is a deeply depressed suicidal girl.  A's aim is not to disrupt the lives he inhabits, but in this case he finds a way to ask for help.

The plot centers around A falling in love with Rhiannon, the girlfriend of an unlikable boy he's inhabiting.  Because he's fallen for a straight girl, I ended up thinking of him as male, even when he was female-for-a-day.  Violating his own rules, he starts to take his hosts back to the girl's town and he eventually explains to her what's happening with him.  Each time they meet, he's in a different body, feeling desperately in love.  She's a great character, trying to understand A's life, still in love with the selfish boyfriend, nobody's pushover.  A leaves behind very little memory of his occupancy -- people will have vague memories of how a day went.  But he follows Rhiannon to a party and can't get his host back home before it's time to move on to the next body (midnight, of course) and the young man wakes up by the side of the road, convinced he's been possessed by the devil.

The plot thickens but avoids many pitfalls it could lurch into.  One cares deeply about the main characters.  There's a wonderful interlude when he wakes up in Rhiannon's body and spends the day trying to avoid doing anything she'll consider a violation of her privacy.  I was mildly disappointed in the ending -- endings are so hard to do well -- but no spoilers here.

It's good to be back to the blog.



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