Tuesday, March 15, 2016

An open letter to David Levithan about Every Day


To David Levithan:
I’ve adored your writing since I read Boy Meets Boy for a YA Lit class (with Professor Diane Johnson at the University of South Carolina), and I got to meet you one year at YALLfest. I loved the pure spirit of your stories and your clever way with words. My connection to Every Day runs deeper than that; this book asks some of the same questions my soul is always asking and inspires me to be a better person.
Reading any book is an exercise in empathy. You step into a character’s shoes for a while. This book amplifies that effect, because the person whose shoes you’re stepping into is also constantly stepping into new shoes. He demonstrates how gracefully it can be done with observations like, “Some girls and boys obliterate their rooms as they grow older, thinking they have to banish all their younger incarnations in order to convincingly inhabit a new one. But Rhiannon is more secure with her past than that…. J.D. Salinger sits next to Dr. Seuss on her bookshelf.”
At one point, A and Rhiannon help a girl who is mentally ill. As a major depressive and a mental health advocate, I want to thank you for a portrayal of mental illness that is scientific and rings true.
But when I read this part, I had a moment of inspiration and wondered if I was predicting how the book would end: Doesn’t A’s existence encapsulate the essence of selflessness? Couldn’t he become inspired to improve the life of each person he inhabits in some small way? He says, “I have the potential to be the devil…. Yes, I could get away with it, but certainly we all have the potential to commit the crime. We choose not to. Every single day, we choose not to.” Moving as this is, why not mention the flipside of this potential? To be a guardian angel? To be the ultimate empath?
I suppose there’s the fear that such a moment of inspiration would come across as didactic; that characters must be more flawed than that; that books are only meant to ask questions, not provide answers. Maybe I ask too much of novel heroes in my own insecure search for wisdom.
Instead of energized inspiration to improve the lives he inhabits, A has a quiet principle of non-interference (which he tends to violate). In its own way, this is pure and selfless, and maybe a moment of inspiration would glorify that selflessness too much. Maybe it would make the book too similar to A’s most loathed book, The Giving Tree. Am I getting this right?
If you read this, thank you a million times over. I would love to hear from you.
Courtney Diles Henderson

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