Boy meets girl. Girl thinks boy is great, if distant. Boy and girl spend one fantastic day together, cutting class, running around on the beach, telling stories. It’s the makings of a cute, John Green-like love story, but there’s a supernatural twist: Boy isn’t “boy” at all, but a person who, upon waking each morning, occupies a different body, a different gender, a different race.
This is the premise of author and children’s book editor David Levithan’s Another Day, which released earlier this month as a follow-up to his 2012 novel, Every Day. In both stories, a teenage couple, Rhiannon and A, deal with complications a little less commonplace than driver’s licenses and prom dates. When A wakes up in the body of Rhiannon’s slouchy beau, the two hit it off, but A warns her that things might not be the same tomorrow. Transported into the body of a friendly Asian girl, A visits Rhiannon again, under the guise of a new student -- and again, they forge a connection. While Every Day tells the star-crossed love story from A's point of view, Another Day shares Rhiannon's thoughts.
The story was new territory for Levithan, who often writes about LGBT issues in his fiction, but has never confronted gender fluidity so directly. In an interview with The Huffington Post, he explained what motivated him to write a young adult book that handled sex, sexuality and identity as delicately as many literary fiction writers do.
“I wanted to ask the questions that are relevant to gender -- about how much is a construction and how much is inherent,” Levithan said. In so doing, he crafted a story not unlike Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, or, more recently, Anne Garreta’s genderless language experiment, Sphinx. Of course, the language and the story are aimed at young readers -- and that’s part of what makes it so powerful.
When asked how sex and sexuality should be handled in books for young readers, Levithan said simply, “I think they should be handled with the same truth that we try to bring to any subject.” He cites E. Lockhart, Ruby Oliver and Lauren Myracle as other YA authors who tackle sexuality with the honesty it requires.
“At first I thought [the character] A would focus on the differences between the bodies and lives that A inhabits,” Levithan said. “But as I wrote, I realized that A would live by the commonality instead -- and because of that would be able to observe how ridiculous so many of our norms and prejudices are.”
Though Levithan believes writing fiction that clearly works against existing gender norms can be accomplished in a number of ways, he chose to employ a supernatural element -- A’s body-hopping affliction -- to highlight the possibilities for how sexuality can be manifested.
“I think the supernatural element makes it much easier for readers to relate, or at least for readers who’d otherwise be vexed by the notion of genderqueerness to understand it more.”
Ultimately, though, Levithan says, “I just wanted to investigate what it would be like to be someone who wasn’t defined by the body they were in.”
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