Although I’ve been reading YA almost exclusively lately, I had to make an exception for David Levithan’s first foray into the adult market. I’ve liked or loved all of his YA titles, so picking it up was really a done-deal from the moment I saw it, but I was also curious to see what sort of story had prompted him (and his publisher) to switch audiences and markets.
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I’m glad I did, both for my own sake and on behalf of the library patrons I’ll be recommending it to: The Lover’s Dictionary (FSG, 2011) is a perfect YA/adult crossover title, and will be a good pick for word-lovers and romantics alike.
In it, Levithan tells the story of a relationship—the narrator writes it to his other half—not chronologically, but by defining words in a very personal dictionary. If the content had been of lesser quality, the format could have seemed gimmicky or twee. Happily, though, each entry—some a single line, most under a page long—reads like a prose-poem.
My favorite definitions make me wonder if the music scene has missed out on a talented songwriter. They act as briefer-than-brief vignettes, evoking entire evenings or interactions with an impressive economy of words:
I swore I would never take you to the opera again.
I believe your exact words were, “You’re getting too emotional.”
The entries that refer to the event foremost in the narrator’s mind made my stomach lurch and twist, every time, and that feeling only grew as I turned the pages:
It was the way you said, “I have something to tell you.” I could feel the magic drain from the room.
It sounded like you were lifting me, but it all fell.
Some definitions made me wonder why the narrator would even want to work things out:
No, I don’t listen to the weather in the morning. No, I don’t keep track of what I spend. No, it hadn’t occurred to me that the Q train would have been much faster. But every time you give me that look, it doesn’t make me want to live up to your standards.
While others made me understand that desire completely:
It’s the way you say thank you like you’re genuinely thankful. I have never met anyone else who does that on a regular basis.
As I said, it’s being marketed to the adult audience, and though the details of the lives of the characters will be more familiar to those in their 20s (and older)—moving in together, travelling for work—the emotions are universal and will certainly be very familiar to a teen audience. And while it’s geared toward an older audience, it will be more easily accessible to broad audiences than the multivoiced The Realm of Possibility (Knopf, 2004), but, at the same time, will appeal to the same language-loving fanbase.
Although the format never allowed me to emotionally connect with Levithan’s characters, not directly, something in me strongly resonated. It felt, at times, not that I was feeling with him, but that he was bringing me on my own, personal, parallel journey. Even if I didn’t connect with the people, I connected with the journey. Because, when I finished the book, I felt unsure and melancholy...until I remembered that epilogue begins with an ‘e.’
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably engaged in yet-another pitched battle with her new cat.