Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day by David LevithanEvery Day by David Levithan
Narrator: Alex McKenna
Series: Every Day #1
Published by Listening Library on 8/28/12
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

Every day a different body. Every day a different life. Every day in love with the same girl.

There’s never any warning about where it will be or who it will be. A has made peace with that, even established guidelines by which to live: Never get too attached. Avoid being noticed. Do not interfere.

It’s all fine until the morning that A wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. From that moment, the rules by which A has been living no longer apply. Because finally A has found someone he wants to be with—day in, day out, day after day.

Story: C-
Narration: B-

Quick Review:

Although the premise was intriguing and provided a clever framework for a discussion of gender identity, sexual orientation, and the politics of gender expression, there was a such a lack of depth to the primary relationship (that was, ostensibly, the primary motivation for all of the protagonist’s actions) that the story seemed far less of a stimulating philosophical exercise or a plot driven book and more of an excuse for thinly veiled moralizing. The narration was likely what sustained me enough to finish the book.

*Note: this review contains a mild (possible) spoiler*

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed several things about this book but the longer it went on the more irked I became by what I perceived as a weakness in how the story was constructed and in the dilution of some very interesting social issues caused by the sheer variety of them. When “A” – the only true name we know the protagonist by — hops into the body of a high school boy, she (he? A seems to be gender neutral but I’ll use “she” since the audiobook narrator was female) makes an immediate connection to her host’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. This instant attraction/love is what drives the rest of the book as A migrates from body to body on a 24 hour schedule, each day trying to find her way back to Rhiannon.

We know the transition happens at midnight and that the sex of the host doesn’t matter. A seems to body jump to someone who is the same age (she grew up — literally and figuratively — jumping) she is chronologically and the hosts seem to be in the same general geographic location (within the same state) she is. By the end, though, I was left with a lot of unanswered questions about the how and why of A’s ability to switch bodies. While that would have worked for me if the book held steady to a philosophical/social issues bent, it became a niggling issue for me when the end of the story seemed to try to straighten itself into a more conventional plot-driven spec-fic book by introducing another body jumper and starting A on the path to discovering who else like her was out there and how she could better control her jumps. I do have to take part of the blame for the frustration those unanswered questions caused because I formed an expectation that this was a stand-alone book rather than part of a series and it seems pretty clear it’s intended to be the first in a series.

The impression we get is that Rhiannon is beaten down by her relationship with Justin and that she’s desperately unhappy but there’s little to no in-depth interactions that establish that. A also doesn’t seem to identify any character traits in Rhiannon that drives the intense attraction; she just decides Rhiannon is “the one” and then keeps showing up wherever Rhiannon is, wanting to forge a connection. This lack of solid background and character development makes Rhiannon seem like little more than a placeholder and a very tenuous anchor with which to tether the story of A’s body jumps. It also made A seem like a bit of a stalker since there was a large disparity in the level of feeling Rhiannon and A had for each other for much of the book.

Those body jumps then end up seeming issue driven: the lesbian host, the host who is a bully, the undocumented worker, the goth girl suffering from depression who plans to kill herself, the obese host, the transgender host, etc. When this method of illuminating a social or psychological issue works, it can be very moving for the listener (the suicidal host was particularly well-written and I found myself wishing the story would completely branch off there and permanently hop to that side-story) but the quick jump to the next issue (especially if it was less than successfully portrayed as was the case with the obese host) made it feel like a cheap “throw it all at the wall and see what sticks” parlor trick rather than in in-depth consideration of gender or sexual identity or mental health or… you get the point.

Also problematic for me was the disregard A ended up showing for the host bodies after initially seeming to respect that she was just visiting. Once Rhiannon entered the picture, A was fine with making the host bodies do whatever was necessary to get close to her. Mid-way through there was a moment of “this body has never had sex so I don’t feel right having sex with you while I’m in it” but that seemed a pretty spurious moral decision considering her out-of-character (for the host) actions before and after that scene — including being responsible for one host body getting beaten up. This felt more like inconsistency in characterization rather than an attempt to delve into how Rhiannon influenced A’s existing moral compass or a cautionary tale about how crazy love can make someone act. On the other hand, a discussion I had with someone about this book also pointed out to me that kind of inconsistent behavior and indecision is a pretty typical teen characteristic.

Where this book did succeed for me (yes, it did on some levels) was the manner in which A was made convincingly gender-neutral. Although I would have been just as happy with a specifically female or male A swapping bodies and engaging in romantic interactions with both sexes, that would be preaching to the choir and the gender neutral A worked well to emphasize the universal nature of love — regardless of the sex of the object of affection. I also found the premise exceedingly clever and it was an excellent framework that could have been used to either dig deeply into one or two social issues (rather than callowly skimming over many) via the vehicle of very accessible fiction or to cleverly twist listener expectations until the brittle ones break.

Overall it was a book that started well for me but kind of fell apart as it went along. I didn’t hate it and the aspects that failed for me might very well be exactly what appeals to a teen reader struggling with their sexual or gender identity

The Narration:

Alex McKenna has rough/craggy voice (more so in this audiobook than in the other audio samples of her work I listened to) that my ear needed to adjust to. Although the character voices were easily distinguishable, the persistence of a very noticeable vocal characteristic like that across all the characters, many of who are high school kids, wasn’t ideal in terms of allowing each character to seem real and unique. It was ideal for creating a relatively gender neutral voice for A that helped maintain my connection with her character without being jarred by the changes in the sex of her host bodies. I’m also going to hypothesize that it might also subconsciously mitigate some of the immediate outrage some listeners might feel based on the diversity of sexual/gender identity covered. Ms. McKenna delivered the text with thoughtfulness and she inhabited the characters fully. The dialogue was natural sounding and overall, the narration ended up working pretty well for me.

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