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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Two Boys Kissing, written by David Levithan. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2013. $18.99 ages 12 and up

"When Max's early affections became clear, he didn't think twice about them. He doesn't see it as defining him. It is just a part of his definition. What does Max see when he looks at Harry and Craig? He sees two boys kissing. But it's not the two boys part that gives him pause. It's the kissing. He can't imagine anyone ever wanting to kiss anyone for that long. Just wait, we want to tell him. Just you wait."

Here's the reason for the kiss:

"He thought at first that it was because he was black, but from all the variations of faggot they were throwing his way, he knew it wasn't only that. And some of  them were black, too. He tried to walk past them, head back to the movie theater or even to the pizza place where his friends were, but they didn't like that. They boxed him in, and he felt the panic button being pressed. As they made fun of the color of his pants, as they taunted him, he tried to shove himself out. Threw his whole body into it, but there were too many of them, and they weren't caught by surprise. They shoved him back in and he tried to shove out again, and this time the one guy hit him, a blow right to the chest, and as Tariq bent over, more guys joined in. Because once one guy starts, it's a game."

Read that once more, and feel the panic felt by Tariq. Then, you will know why Harry and Craig made the decision they made to try to break the world's record for the longest kiss. It was in support of  their friend Tariq, and soon became much more than that.

Please listen to the voices of the men who have gone before:

"As he bled on the pavement, pebbles and gravel grinding into his wounds, we felt ourselves bleeding, too. As his ribs broke, we could feel our ribs breaking. And as the thoughts returned to his mind, the memories returned to ours. That dehumanizing loss of safety. It is something all of us fear and many of us knew firsthand. We are not unfamiliar with what happens next with Tariq - the long healing, the surprising concern from some (including his parents) and the unsurprising lack of concern from others (like some, but not all, of the police). The assailants covered their tracks well, and were never caught. We know who they are, of course. Two of them are haunted by what they did. Three of them are not."

The kiss has an impact for many. It speaks to other gay young men who are just beginning a new relationship, who are shunned by families that cannot accept their sexuality, who are gathering the courage to come out, who are finding friendship with those who don't judge them for who they love, rather who they are.

This book is masterfully narrated by the gay men who died in the midst of the AIDS epidemic. They remind their audience of a very different time in history for many:

"Trust us: There is a nearly perfect balance between the past and the future. As we become the distant past, you become a future few of us would have imagined."

Each of the gay characters has depth and humanity. They are young people to admire and honor. The author creates a bond between the generations with his collective voice narration, all the while moving us forward as life does on a daily basis. It is a celebration of that as our narrators are able to see the changes in the world since they left it.  They celebrate the support of family and friends, the growing acceptance of the community as a whole. It is a new world for gay men, and we can and should be thankful for that.

Extraordinary is all I have to say!

I want to leave the final words to the 'shadow uncles', to the 'angel godfathers':

"There will come a time when the gay prom won't have to be separate. Three will come a time when you will look at someone younger than you and feel that he or she will know more than you ever did. There will come a time when you worry about being forgotten. There will come a time when the gospel will be rewritten. If you play your cards right, the next generation will have so much more than you did."

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