This book certainly gives you a lot to think about. When I finished, I wasn't sure that I liked it. But yesterday I had the opportunity to hear Levithan speak, and I think he changed my mind. Sometimes I accuse other people of sloppy reading (usually when they don't like a book I love), but I think this time I was the sloppy reader.
Before I began this book, I'd heard two opinions about it. The first was that it was seriously amazing, one of the best books of the year. The second was that it suffered terribly from one chapter - one day - in particular, when A inhabits the body of a fat kid and is rather cruel about it - crueler, probably than he'd (this gender is made-up; A doesn't have a body and therefore doesn't have a gender) been about the drug addict, the girl who killed her brother by drunk driving, and the mean girl. This is a notable chapter, and I think it's kind of the turning point of the book, as you're reading a long and wondering whatever is going to happen in the end.
In his talk, my pal David said that he went into this book in explore two questions he had about the scenario he made up in his head (waking up every day in a different body). What is our identity - our inner self - when we have no body, no family, no culture, no community? What would it be like to be that person? And, Can another person really love a person like that, whose body is changing every day? He said that if you read his book, you'd learn his answer to that question.
Well, he's not exactly cut and dry in the novel, but I think I get it. So A is moving along in different bodies day to day, and when he meets his Manic Pixie Dream Girl, of course he wants to stay with her. But when he discovers that there is some possible (possibly evil) way to continue inhabiting a body, he decides not to. Why? I was thinking about an identity I might have outside of family and community and body and all those little things that make us unique, like talent and interests and style, and I don't know what that would be. So what it comes down to, and I think this is maybe the point, is that being a different person every day, THAT is A's identity, and really nothing else. If he stayed in one person, who would he be? How much of the inhabited person's identity would remain? All he has are his rules for his day to day life, and he decides to keep it that way.
The question of loving someone like A is more of an obvious theme when you read the book. And I think Levithan's answer comes down pretty clear: no. Whatshername isn't interested in A so much when he's in a woman's body, and when he's fat she's basically like, "call me when you're in a hot body," which is why it's the turning point for the novel. The scene when they're getting hot and heavy, he even notes that what she wants is the body.
This book can come off a bit didactic, but maybe we, as readers, should fight reading it that way. I think that's what got me hung up. A inhabits girls and boys, popular, unpopular, happy, depressed, athletic, gays, and straights, and transgenders, and the way he talks about them (in a really hot girl, he notes how girls shouldn't have to put so much work into their bodies and appearance, etc) can come off as after-school specially. This is what makes the chapter with the fat kid so noteworthy. Levithan stops being didactic. Is this on purpose? What's his point? Is it a failure of his personal beliefs OR is he trying to make a point in the novel? My other criticism is that the episodic nature of the book can get... well, a bit dull. I was kind of bored there for a while.
It took a few days for this book to catch up to me, and I think that had I not seen Levithan yesterday, it may not have. The heart of this book is the questions it explores, and I wasn't exactly taking the time for them. Now, though, I think it'd be a great book for a book club. Can we really separate our identity from our body? Can we separate other people's identities from their bodies?
David also said that there might be a sequel. Maybe. Don't hold him to it. But possibly.