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Saturday, February 20, 2010

review: Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan


Love is the Higher Law
by David Levithan

First there is a Before, and then there is an After...
The lives of three teens — Claire, Jasper, and Peter — are altered forever on September 11, 2001. Claire, a high school junior, has to get to her younger brother in his classroom. Jasper, a college sophomore from Brooklyn, wakes to his parents’ frantic calls from Korea, wondering if he’s okay. Peter, a classmate of Claire’s, has to make his way back to school as everything happens around him.
Here are three teens whose intertwining lives are reshaped by this catastrophic event. As each gets to know the other, their moments become wound around each other’s in a way that leads to new understandings, new friendships, and new levels of awareness for the world around them and the people close by.

young adult fiction ; glbt ; romance { genre
PG for mild sexual content { rating
August 25, 2009 { first released
Random House hardcover (176 pages) { review edition
won from Bloggers [heart] Books { acquisition
Amazon.com ; Amazon.ca ; IndieBound ; Book Depository { purchase links

Why I Read This
I discovered this title from the list of prizes available for claim in the pick-your-prize contest I won. The mention of Jasper being Korean immediately caught my attention, just as much as his potential romance with Peter. I don't find a lot of gay Asian young adult characters in stuff I read, so this became my obvious choice =D

First Lines
Jasper: I missed the whole goddamn thing. Slept late, woke up to the phone ringing, was completely oblivious. In fact, I was pissed that the phone was ringing, because it was before noon, and it was the house line, which meant it probably wasn't for me.
(this is technically from chapter 2, but I prefer Jasper's opening to Claire's)

Overall Rating
☂☂☂☂.5

Jasper steals the spotlight as the sarcastic, gay Korean-American University student who finds himself conflicted between accepting the well-meaning comfort offered by people who couldn't relate to his experiences, or pushing them away with jokes and reassurances. Peter is far from the token love interest as his voice comes to life through his love of music and the emotions songs and lyrics stir within him. Claire is the mutual acquaintance that brings the two closer together, but while she is not entirely negligible, I was disappointed in her role as the author's preacher. While I was quite moved by the messages of love and peace, I felt that the stark reality of the actual consequences in the aftermath (anger, hatred, war) should not have been so easily omitted.

review posted to Amazon.ca, Book Depository, goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari

Plot/Themes
☂☂☂☂.5

Mr. Levithan brings the immediate setting of the 9/11 tragedy into sharp relief through each of the character's eyes. We see glimpses of the tower both up close from Claire's eyes, and from far away as the wind carries its debris to Jasper's doorstep. In the author's note at the end, the author has stressed the importance of committing these images to writing so that they will never be forgotten, and I feel he has done an amazing job with it.
As well, I felt that the gay themes in this book was handled very refreshingly. For one there were multiple gay characters besides Jasper and Peter, so their romance was less about clinging to the first gay guy that agrees to go out with them. There are also various supporting friends if not family members, and the dates are adorably awkward. The little bit about sexually active gay individuals being forbidden from donating blood even during such a disaster was just one of the many interesting details that really helped me sympathize with what the characters have to live with.

Characters
☂☂☂☂

Claire is the only reason this section didn't get 5 stars. While I admire that she did not start shedding tears of woe at every given opportunity, I do feel that her personality was sacrificed in order for her to become the stand-in for the author's ramblings. An abundance of her dialogue and actions are rather preachy, and outside her occasional soliloquy on how tragic she felt, much of her story isn't about herself at all. Her nightly wandering through the streets let us see glimpses of what other people are doing to cope with the disaster, while her lengthy speeches expound on all the love people can and are offering - indeed an entire chapter's length is dedicated to her ongoing monologue. Towards the end, she seems just the convenient link that brings Jasper and Peter together, their supposedly strong friendship forming seemingly instantaneously after a lengthy confession of feelings. As even Jasper says, she is very easily overlooked as a person.
Peter on the other hand is the character who acts as the dedicated connection to music that I assume is in almost all of Mr. Levithan's novels. A lot of his introspective narrations centre on music and the effect lyrics can have on people. He talks about the emotions that erupt during live concerts, and name drops quite a few band names that I was not familiar with - since I don't listen to much English music - but would probably strike recognition in other readers' eyes. His relative inexperience with gay relationships was rather endearing, despite the misunderstandings it causes between him and the much more experienced Jasper. I do like that he was not completely lovesick when they are apart, and despite that he is younger, is willing to make the decisive moves. His friendship with Claire is also strongly connected to their mutual enjoyment of music, and I found their gifting each other with mix tapes to be quite adorable.
Now Jasper, I believe, brings the most life to the novel. He's a gay Korean university undergrad, who is unabashedly blunt, amusingly witty, and undergoes the greatest character development. He starts out joking and snarking about his day, but as the gravity of the events set in, we see that he is just afraid to let the events "get to him". He does mourn with everyone else, but avoids sharing his thoughts and feelings, partly because he doesn't want to, and partly because he has no one to share them with. However, even as his voice becomes more sombre, the sarcastic quips and imaginative metaphors that endear him to the reader never disappear completely. I like the quiet fondness he has for Claire and all the care he puts into doing little things for her, just as much as I like how he is uncharacteristically shy around Peter whom he is quite smitten with.
I do love that Jasper snarks about how American guys never expect an Asian person to ask about stuff outside math and stuff, much less homosexuality lol. There was also a lot more development in Jasper's cultural roots near the end when he visits Korea. He talks about the North/South Korea divide, and about accessing his underused understanding of Korean. I also did love the struggle he had with expressing his feelings towards his emotionally stunted father and overcompensatingly caring mother.

Writing
☂☂☂☂☂

Mr. Levithan is incredibly skilled as a writer and is able to weave quite a few different narrative styles into this short novel even if there are only three narrators. Sometimes it's frantic with short, clipped paragraphs, other times it's emotionally charged, elongated sentences. I thought the separated POV for the email correspondence between Jasper and Peter was also a nice touch, revealing to us the entirety of one side of the conversation, and then the other. I adore most of the dialogue as well (save the preachy parts), and especially Jasper's sarcasm and completely natural, hilarious head-snark.

Ending
☂☂☂☂

This book intentionally focuses on the love and kindness that exists even after such a tragedy that is 9/11. However, the fact remains that even with all the amazingly altruistic acts recounted in the book - and they were extremely moving, I concede - one cannot just omit the understandably strong feelings of hatred and anger as well. The author does give the war a mention in the last few pages, along with the conviction that many Americans were clearly against it. But at the same time he seems to overlook that there were indeed an abundance of civilian support as well. Considering the restraints of the subject that he has chosen to portray, I cannot fault him in his choice of omission, but I would have liked to see at least one or two side characters who represented the views of the grievously enraged.

Reading Challenges
A to Z Challenge 2010 → L for Levithan (author)
Books Won Challenge 2010
Stand Alone Challenge 2010
TwentyTen Challenge → Young Adult
POC Challenge 2010 → POC character
GLBT Challenge 2010 → gay characters/romance
Young Adult Challenge 2010

Meme Features
In My Inbox: 2010/02/07
GLBT Challenge 2010: February Mini-Challenge
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4 comments:

Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...

Nice review. I like how you gave a nod to how the characters interacted with each other. I really liked that aspect, but I didn't touch on it much on my review at all. And yeah, I was thinking of giving this book a 4/5 but then my brain went BUT CLAIRE T_T and then settled for giving it a B instead.

Swimmer said...

This is on my TBR list

Melissa (My World...in words and pages) said...

This sounds like a moving book all the way around. Great review! Sounds like the characters, mostly, where well done along with the writing style to give the details of the happenings and the plot.

Great review!

Wanda said...

An excellent indepth review! This certainly sounds like a book I would enjoy reading, both for its characters and writing style.