Verdict: It’s a LitHacker first, y’all, a book that cannot be hacked. Nothing can save this book from itself, except for it being completely rewritten. I was intrigued by the description of the book’s unique premise, but ultimately I thought it was actually quite an offensive book. I am going to have to restrain myself with explaining why because I took far too many copious, angry notes as I was reading. Good news for The Help: it is now officially off the hook for being my least favorite book ever read!
Perfect for: Look, I know I’m in the minority here – look at other reviews and you’ll see most people really liked this book. People who like other David Levithan books, people who like romantic comedies, or people who appreciate books having an interesting premise might like Every Day.
Summary: Each day the sixteen-year-old narrator, A, wakes up in a different sixteen-year old’s body. Different genders, different races, different socioeconomic realities. A has been experiencing this his/her whole life like this and doesn’t know why. Because of this instability of this life, A has been trying her/his best to not disrupt the host’s life during the day, and that includes trying not to make connections with anyone, since it would be impossible to continue any kind of relationship. But in the first chapter of the book, on Day 5994 of A’s life, s/he is inhabiting the body of a boy named Justin and s/he ends up falling in love with Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon. The rest of the book follows A’s attempts to try to develop and sustain a relationship with Rhiannon, despite “becoming” a different person every day.
A sentient being taking over a host body is a classic sci-fi premise. It’s a cool premise, and Every Day is intriguing because the sentient being is switching bodies every morning. Sci-fi (aka speculative fiction) is all about asking and answering “What if?”, and some of my favorite sci-fi books have preposterous looking “what if” questions, but the writing and story were so good that I never once got in the mindset of “how or why could this possibly happen?”. I just went with it. Not so for Every Day.
No explanation is ever made for why A wakes up in a different body every day, or why that body has to be approximately the same age as A or why it always happens in Maryland or how A is able to “access” his/her hosts memories, but not the hosts feelings of these memories, or why the hosts don’t remember having someone take over their lives for a day or why A is able to retain his/her memories from day to day or why midnight triggers the body switch or how A even has a coherent personality since s/he hasn’t had the chance to be a person or….oh, forget it. You’re either going to go with it or not, but I just couldn’t. These rules just seemed to have been contrived in order for Levithan to be able to construct his plot, rather than flowing out of some unified explanation (I mean the Maryland thing is obviously so that A can never really be too far away from Rhiannon since the farthest A ever gets is like 5 hours away). I also think the fact that this was set in contemporary American made this phenomenon more difficult to swallow. At least in some of the other books I linked to above, the story takes place in a different place or involves alien beings.
Another contrivance that just seemed so out of touch with teens today was the fact that since A switched bodies, A wouldn’t be able to ever use a phone to text, so A has set up an email account. OK, fine, fair enough. But that means when A wants to keep in touch with someone from a day’s life A asks them to email. And all the teens s/he asks are never like, “email? what? let’s just text or IM or find me on Facebook”. I found that almost more implausible than the other things I listed above. A also goes to a party where A makes small talk with another teen by commenting on the CDs that are set up by the stereo. Is this book meant to be set in 1998? I don’t get it.
While Every Day is not a romantic comedy, it is meant to be a romance, and it shares with romantic comedies the idea that the movie’s hero will do anything for love. And the thing is, that if you look at romantic comedies through the lens of realism, these romantic “heroes” often act like creepy stalkers that no sane person would ever want to fall in love with. In this book, A falls in love with Rhiannon because….actually, I still don’t really get why. A notices that Rhiannon seems to shrink into herself around A’s host Justin (her boyfriend) and do whatever Justin suggests because she wants the crumbs of his affection. And this makes A mad because Rhiannon is so incredible! So amazing! But all A really sees of Rhiannon on that day is her compliance to skip school with “Justin” and go to the beach and have a normal conversation about life. Nothing deep, nothing “amazing”. And from this point on, in every body that A inhabits, A basically starts stalking Rhiannon to see if s/he can make her break up with douchey Justin and fall in love with A. First A email stalks her. Then A starts showing up at Rhiannon’s school (in different bodies) and convincing her to cut class and not hang out with her friends so that she can hang out with A. Rhiannon will even drive all the way to A when A wakes up in a teen who can’t drive or doesn’t have a car. She totally drops her life for A, way more than she ever does with Justin. And this is supposed to be romance?
The other disturbing thing is how cavalier A is about using his/her host’s body to carry out her/his creeper mission. Before Rhiannon, A had a firm rule to never interfere with his/her host’s life and was very conscious of the butterfly effect. But after Rhiannon, A basically decides that her/his host’s lives don’t matter and that using their bodies to get to Rhiannon is totally ok because of TRUE LOVE. And it’s not ok. A makes his/her hosts miss school, miss dates, get in trouble with parents, act weird around friends and even miss a trip to a sibling’s wedding. The worst of all is that on an early trip to visit Rhiannon, A doesn’t get his/her host Nathan’s body back home before midnight, so Nathan wakes up disoriented in his car in a place he doesn’t know. When Nathan discovers A’s email open on his computer, he contacts A and tries to find out why A would mess with him like this. But somehow A treats Nathan like he’s the bad guy, and the whole Nathan plot line was just more evidence that A is an amoral creeper. And I never understood why A was afraid of getting caught – what did A think anyone could do about A’s condition? (Side note: for those of you [like me] who enjoy the deliciously trashy Pretty Little Liars series, you know that anyone who calls themselves “A” is never good news. Odd that Leviathan would pick this “name” for the protagonist.)
The part of the book that illustrates both A’s desire to constrict Rhiannon’s life and A’s disregard of her/his host’s lives is when Rhiannon asks A how they could possibly maintain a relationship with A’s condition. Apparently, A has this plan that they would both move to New York City, because A hypothesizes that since it’s a dense geographical location somehow A would magically only body hop within the confines of Manhattan (?!). Then Rhiannon could get an apartment and somehow A could make her/his hosts spend every evening and night with Rhiannon because…as A and his/her hosts age none of A’s hosts would ever have a spouse or partner that would be suspicious? Or a night job? Or like, a life? Just ridiculous and awful.
Soooo, I think “the point” of the book was that Levithan was trying to illustrate that We Are All the Same and that Tolerance is Important. It’s like Levithan made a list of people we should have empathy towards: immigrants, depressed people, drug abusers, poor people and non-heterosexuals – and has A portray one day of a life as these people. A lot is made that A is genderless and that A has been attracted to both males and females, and from day 5994 through day 6034, A inhabits at least three gay people’s bodies and one transsexual, which seemed like a disproportional number of non-heterosexual sixteen-year-olds in Maryland. While tolerance for sexuality is a theme hammered throughout the book, I found Levithan to be strangely intolerant towards “jocks” and religious people, for example. A also at one point states that s/he can tell exactly what kind of person the host is from his music (apparently loud rock automatically makes someone a jerk?). There was also, oddly, an intolerance towards teens as sexual beings, you know, with having sex. A has an odd rule that s/he will never have sex with anyone because it would not be fair to his/her host. But kissing is OK? And getting naked? It seems like an odd line to draw, especially when it’s clear that the host already has a sexual relationship with a partner. Finally, while A is meant to be a gender-less race-less being, A clearly narrates from a white perspective, noting that s/he is inhabiting a black girl’s body or a Brazilian boy’s body, but never once stating, “I am a middle-class white boy today” or something like that. Very strange since there is a higher percentage of non-whites in Maryland than their are non-heterosexuals. So why so much respectful attention paid to sexuality and not other factors such as race or class or religion? I really loved Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy, which I found to be a joyous celebration of gay love that was presented NOT in a heavy-handed, preachy way.
It was in the dreaded First Person Present Tense. The writing was choppy. The phrase “nothing bad ever happens in a Starbucks” was uttered. And finally, the cover of this book was gorgeous. I wish Levithan would donate it to a better book.
If you’d like to read spoilers/commentary about the ending, go to: https://lithacker.com/2013/02/24/review-addendum-i-forgot-to-talk-about-the-horrible-twisted-ending-to-every-day/