By David Levithan. $9.99; Ember; 322 pages
David Levithan is a beloved YA author consistently brave enough to take on themes of sexuality and gender identity. Every Day, first published in 2012 and about to become a movie of the same title, is likely one of the first portrayals of a sort of nonbinary identity in teen literature. A is a person, or perhaps a free-floating consciousness, who wakes up each day in a different person's body. That person may be a boy or a girl, gay or straight, fairly cookie-cutter or significantly challenged in some way. This has been going on for 16 years, and seems unlikely to change for A, who came up with their own name as a point of consistency for themselves in their ever-fluid life.
One day A wakes up in the body of an unremarkable, kind of bro-ish teenager named Justin. But it's Justin's girlfriend, Rhiannon, who takes A's attention. Normally A tries not to disrupt the lives of the people whose body they temporarily inhabitthey try to discern a baseline normal and go from there, an approach that can backfire when they inadvertently arrive at significant moments such as an anniversary or declaration of love. But A, as Justin, decides to give Rhiannon a special day on the beach, something the lout wouldn't normally do. The next morning, while having moved on to a new life, A's mind is still stuck on Rhiannon. A increasingly disrupts a series of lives in order to be closer to Rhiannon, who gamely tries to both understand and adjust to having a partner who will never appear the same way twice, may often be unable to show up for the plans they've made, and will have a new reality each day at the stroke of midnight.
It's hard to tell how well the conceit of Every Day, and its sequel, Another Day, holds up. It is absolutely true that the concept of a relationship doomed by constantly having to leave behind your beloved, to say nothing of never having an established family, home, or friends, is heart-wrenching and likely to leave one with a sense of acute melancholy after reading. The variety of people that A finds themselves inhabiting testifies to Levithan's curiosity and willingness to write new characters, and A's narration throughout is a entirely readable sweet, plainspoken poetry. Yet at the same time, the situations presentedA inhabits a depressed girl who's made a plan to kill herself, a "mean girl," and a 300-lb. boyseem a little after-school special, designed to artificially jerk readers into empathy rather than organically create it. The side plot of A trying to argue with a boy who claims to have been demonically possessed on the day A uses his life to to meet up with Rhiannon at a party...it's a little over the top and a weird fit with the exposition of A's situation and the constant striving for togetherness that makes up the rest of the storyline.
And neither Rhiannon or A has much of a personalitytheir relationship is all action or recalling memories, which doesn't leave us much time to get to know them, let alone that A does that YA thing of falling in love much too fast and unbelievably. It's understandable that we might not get to know A easily. Through their narration we get a sense of them as considerate, passionate, and thoughtful. They have likes and dislikes: occasionally they'll really enjoy a life they end up in, such as Alexander Lin's, a boy with a lime green couch, and they have accumulated knowledge and music preferences throughout their 16 years of presence. Rhiannon though...A says she's kind and considerate, and she is equally as passionate as adventurous as A, but neither one of them are fully-fleshed out characters in a story that's more about the impossibility of a situation than about the two people in it.
Finally, the idea of nonbinary identity as constantly shifting, and not fully realized, is, on some level, disheartening. It's entirely possible that A is not supposed to be nonbinary, and more pansexual, as they mention a previous relationship with a boy, but they are at base, apparently genderless, and so it seems that non-binary would be the closest analogue to A's depiction insofar as it can be understood. Levithan's point might be about the fluidity of identity and the importance of preserving oneself in the face of constant changean admirable point in YA booksbut if so, why be so clear that A is always themselves, not the people they inhabit, while simultaneously making A so vague? While awareness of nonbinary identity has undoubtedly blossomed in the 6 years since Every Day was first released, at this point it's far preferable to have a nonbinary character who has more agency to inhabit and create their own life, rather than the suggestion of a slightly damned soul that Levithan seems to have created in A.
This is not to discount the metaphorical release that a teen ( particularly, a questioning, trans or genderfluid one ) might find in reading Every Day, and realizing that they may contain multitudesmy perspective is that of a nonbinary adult who is fairly secure in their idenity. At the very least, Every Day will make an interesting movie, and the way A is portrayed on screen in 2018 will ultimately help update and clarify Levithan's intentions in what is still a highly unique creation.
Every Day will be in wide theatrical release on Feb 23.