18 October 2014

Wide Awake by David Levithan

I’d heard about David Levithan quite a bit, but this was the first of his books I read. I picked it because it (a) sounded interesting and (b) was available without a wait from the library.

Wide Awake takes place in a near-future when America has elected its first gay Jewish president, and the forces of the status quo fight to steal the election. Rather than following the politicians and backroom dealers, though, it follows Duncan, a young gay Jew, his boyfriend Jimmy, and their friends and fellow volunteers for the Stein campaign.

There’s no skirting around the fact that Wide Awake was tremendously issue-driven. It unapologetically imagines an America that hit rock bottom - through war-mongering, through financial policies that favored the extremely wealthy, through intolerance - and then was revitalized by progressive policies. Levithan is careful to create new parties, new ideologies to avoid vilifying any current persons or parties, but it’s not hard to figure out what he’s referring to.

[Note: I seriously just tried to put the word “villainizing” in there instead of vilifying. Like three times, before I realized what I was doing wrong.]

In relying on such an obvious allegory, I think Wide Awake lost something. It held me at a distance even while trying to draw me in. I liked the main characters, but I didn’t love them. I liked the story it was unfolding, but I didn’t love it.

Many of the twists and turns came and went, and I was left with a feeling of So what?

It’s very strange for me to feel so conflicted about a book. On the one hand, I think I didn’t actually like it. But on the other hand, I thought it was an important book with, ultimately, an important Message to it.

Maybe that’s the real problem: the Message was handed to me. I wasn’t allowed to figure it out for myself.

Wide Awake was definitely worth reading. It was well written, and it had some really nice moments. But I don’t know. Something about it just didn’t do it for me.

I’m still going to check out more David Levithan, because he’s highly regarded and I’m pretty sure I’m going to like most of his stuff.