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Wide Awakeby David Levithan
Synopses & Reviews
In the not-too-impossible-to-imagine future, a gay Jewish man has been elected president of the United States. Until the governor of one state decides that some election results in his state are invalid, awarding crucial votes to the other candidate, and his fellow party member. Thus is the inspiration for couple Jimmy and Duncan to lend their support to their candidate by deciding to take part in the rallies and protests. Along the way comes an exploration of their relationship, their politics, and their country, and sometimes, as they learn, it's more about the journey than it is about reaching the destination.
Only David Levithan could so masterfully and creatively weave together a plot that's both parts political action and reaction, as well as a touching and insightfully-drawn teen love story.
"Progressive activists have long asserted that the personal is political. In David Levithan's young-adult novel 'Wide Awake,' that old slogan gains new life. And the reverse is also true: In 'Wide Awake,' the political is personal in unprecedented ways. The book opens with a bombshell: The United States has just elected a gay, Jewish president. Abe Stein and his running mate, Alice Martinez,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) won an extremely close race, squeezing out victory by 1,000 votes in Kansas. It is a watershed moment for the country as progressive politics take center stage for the first time in decades. But Levithan quickly tightens the focus, examining the election's personal impact on a gay, Jewish teen-ager named Duncan, who is a strong Stein supporter despite being too young to vote. When the conservative governor demands a re-count, Stein asks his supporters to come to Kansas for a public demonstration. It's a moment of truth for the idealistic Duncan, caught between parents who want him to stay home and a strident boyfriend who wants him to stand up for his beliefs. Levithan — author of 'Boy Meets Boy' and 'The Realm of Possibility' — is not the first author to blend electoral politics with a gay teenager's journey of self-discovery. John Fox's 1984 classic 'The Boys on the Rock' set a 16-year-old boy's coming-out tale against the backdrop of Sen. Eugene McCarthy's failed race for the 1968 Democratic presidential nomination. But where Fox's protagonist faced verbal and physical harassment, plus a rocky relationship that fared no better than McCarthy's campaign, Levithan's Duncan has an easier time, for several reasons. First, this is not a coming-out story; Levithan's teen-agers are already out and comfortable with their sexuality. Gay students in 'Wide Awake' still face small-minded foes — other students, teachers, politicians — but coming out is no longer the defining struggle in their lives. Second, Fox's protagonist views McCarthy solely as a politician, while Duncan sees in Stein a reflection of himself. If Stein wins, Duncan shares the victory as a gay Jew who can, at last, truly imagine becoming president one day. Just 22 years separate these books, but the worlds they inhabit seem impossibly distant. 'Wide Awake' is set in the near future, likely a couple of decades from now. Predicting trends — particularly regarding teen-agers' fashions and slang — is difficult, and Levithan sometimes stumbles. It's hard to imagine even politically aware teens flocking to a 'non-mall,' where anti-consumers shop for items they'd like to buy, only to forgo those purchases and donate to charity the cash they could have spent on themselves. And it's hard to imagine anyone actually saying, 'There's nothing like a little non-shopping to get your mind back to happyzoom.' But if minor details ring false, the major elements of 'Wide Awake' seem essentially plausible. Levithan outlines a world of new possibilities for gay Americans, without positing a utopia where homophobia has vanished and the entire country has changed political orientation. True, in Levithan's future, AIDS is over, and the Supreme Court has affirmed gay Americans' civil rights, including the right to marry. But politically, the country is still closely divided; the pendulum has merely swung slightly to the left, thanks to voters fed up with economic inequality, ongoing health crises and a politically motivated 'War to End All Wars' against 'extremists everywhere.' Levithan's most ingenious creation is the 'Jesus Revolution' — a movement among religious Christians who decide that Jesus' message is about love and peace rather than intolerance and violence; the Jesus Revolution turns millions of Christians into progressive voters and tips the political balance in Stein's favor. Here, Levithan's book reveals its potency. On one level, it is a straightforward, earnest tale of a teen-ager finding himself, complete with a few somewhat steamy sex scenes. But on a deeper level, it is a story about what might be possible 'in the near future' for young gay adults, for social activists and, indeed, for America. It is an optimistic scenario, but Levithan makes it appear almost within reach, personally and politically." Reviewed by
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"Prejudice, tolerance, and freedom are key themes, and first love is equally significant to this high school drama....Shelve this highly recommended title next to Levithan's earlier books with equal enthusiasm for the social milieu and characters he creates." VOYA
"Wide Awake stands with Levithan's extraordinary Boy Meets Boy...in sheer creativity of plot, setting, and message." School Library Journal
"There's no question as to the nature of Levithan's agenda, but he avoids the risk of didacticism by balancing his hilariously unapologetic one-track bandwagon of a plot with a dedicated and eclectic assortment of fully fleshed characters from all walks of life." Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
David Levithan is a children's book editor in New York City. The author lives in Hoboken, NJ.
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