A kiss is just a kiss, as the saying goes. A kiss can launch ships, a kiss can heal a child’s wound and kiss can determined the fate of the universe. In David Levithan’s Two Boys Kissing, it becomes the catalyst for a group of young teenagers navigating a new world of freedoms, tempered triumphs and loss and, for one, a darkness of overwhelming self-hatred.
The novel is told in a sort-of third person narrative, a Greek chorus if you will, of all the people who have died of AIDS, all the ones who “were going to be your role models….to give you art and music and confidence and shelter and a much better world.” They died, paving the way for what we have today –a more open society that is coming to terms with their gay children. These voices of the book take us to Harry and Craig, who’ve have recently split-up, to Avery and Ryan who meet at the separate High School prom for LGBT students, to Neil and Peter, a committed high school couple and to Cooper Riggs, a bolt of self-hatred for who is and who spends hours trolling websites and hook-up apps in search of men who can fulfill his dreams of brutal sex.
Despite breaking up, Craig and Harry remain friends. So much so that when Craig comes up with the idea of breaking the world’s record for kissing, Harry agrees. The boys set up in front of their school and with help from friends and supporters, what starts out as small event, blossoms over its 32 hours into millions of viewers over the internet as the world watches two boys kissing.
While clearly driven to the YA market, Two Boys Kissing can be read by older folks, especially the gay men who survived the Plague Years. Like parents who pass their legacy onto their children, those gay men who came before us had hoped to do that to those that would follow in their footsteps. But so many have died, so many have passed into the Undiscovered Country, that history of what they fought for is like an old black and white TV show, interesting to some, but boring to most. The voices in the book want to help, especially to Cooper who imbibes every self-loathing aspect many early generations had to deal with –though some of that still exists today. But the power between the past, the present and the unknowable future sometimes makes that help difficult.
It is a brilliant book for those teens that are coming out now (and so much more sooner than even 20 years ago), those youths who don’t know who paved their way to that early closet door busting. I mean, many gay men who survived AIDS are bothered by today’s gay youth lack of enthusiasm for activism. And with this book, perhaps Levithan can show them what was done to give them their bright present and future, for the novels chorus laments: “As we become the distant past, you become a future few of us would have imagined. We resent you. You astonish us.”