“If you wake up at a different time in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?” —Fight Club, by Chuck Palahniuk
If you asked A this question, they’d tell you that it was a done deal. For A has no fixed body, no set identity, no normal daily routine. Every day, A wakes up inhabiting a different body corresponding to A’s approximate age. For six thousand days and counting, A has flitted from one person to the next, borrowing their life for twenty-four hours. A has been male and female, black and white and Asian and Hispanic, straight and gay and lesbian and transgender, jock and nerd, scholar and junkie. A tries not to disrupt the lives they’re briefly assuming, but sometimes, things happen. Even though A has access to necessary memories and experiences, and is an expert at playing along with friends and family, sometimes, there are disruptions. And then A finds a reason to try and carve out a life for themselves. A falls in love.
This is the absolutely fascinating premise of David Levithan’s newest book, Every Day, a thought-provoking, engrossing exploration of identity and self. While the protagonist, who thinks of themselves as A, reads as male (to this humble reader, anyway) the truth is that A is genderless, transitory, fluid, forever adopting the primary characteristics of their host. And by stripping away everything physical about the narrator, Levithan sets the stage for a truly interesting story.
A is in the body of Justin, your average teenage guy, when they meet Rhiannon, Justin’s girlfriend. Rhiannon is beautiful, intelligent, a good person, and for some reason, A falls for her like a ton of bricks. They share one wonderful day together, and under normal circumstances, that would be it. A would move on. But even after leaping into the next identity, A can’t forget Rhiannon. A starts hijacking the body of the day to find ways to run into Rhiannon again, at first without her knowledge, later confessing everything. Their relationship quietly blooms, made all the more awkward by A’s constant changing, A’s need to work around his hosts’ myriad needs and schedules, desires, and circumstances. Even as A and Rhiannon try to work through the difficulties, another problem arises when one of A’s former hosts remembers just enough of his missing day to raise a fuss. Now the former host, Nathan, is trying to track down A, convinced that he was possessed by the Devil.
Yeah, it’s complicated. Undeniably a weird premise, it comes with more questions than answers. We never find out why A is this way, or where people like A come from, or why midnight is the cutoff for each body swap. (Funny, I start thinking of that bit from Gremlins 2 about crossing the International Date Line…) Near the end, we’re treated to some hints that don’t quite satisfy the need for explanations, and it’s a little frustrating. But this isn’t the sort of book where we’re supposed to ask too many questions about the mechanics. We’re here to marvel at Levithan’s ability to conjure up dozens of authentic teen experiences, and watch how they all paint a larger picture.
Throughout the course of this book, A experiences numerous lives, touching on almost anything you can reasonably imagine. Some days are less involved and memorable than others, but a few definitely stick out due to their depth and complexity. The suicidal girl. The lesbian. The transman. The overweight guy. The illegal, underage maid. A dips into each life in turn, and it’s telling how they try to improve some situations, cope with others, and flat-out ignore others as needed. A’s not a bad person, but its growing obsession with Rhiannon does have a few unexpected side-effects along the way.
There’s a lot to think about here. Because A has no one true identity, it’s difficult to quantify A. While this particular reader tends to see A as male, another reader could just as easily see A as female. Another reader might choose to read A as trans, and again be just as correct. Since this is at heart a love story, that really shakes things up, doesn’t it? Rhiannon, although naturally frustrated and dubious about the whole thing, isn’t entirely upset when A shows up in a female body. Rhiannon reads as heterosexual, if a little flexible, if her interactions are anything to go by. However, gender and sexuality clearly aren’t the most important things in this romance, since the two connect on a mental/intellectual/spiritual/emotional level far better than they do physically. And of course it’s that physicality which proves the greatest challenge to their romance….
I’ve read through Every Day several times, trying to wrap my mind around it, and I fear I still can’t do it justice. It’s such a simple idea, but so remarkably complex. And that’s why it works for me: it takes that one simple, unexplained, magical idea and runs with it as far as it can. If you’re looking for a YA romance that both ignores and plays with all of the usual gender and sexuality and racial barriers, this is the perfect one.
Now, Every Day does have a few minor flaws. There’s a conflict set up near the end, involving A’s true nature and the possibility of others who aren’t quite as morally upstanding, but it doesn’t go very far and is only briefly addressed before the ending (which can be seen as a bit of a cliffhanger). I don’t know if Levithan has plans to revisit this particular setting or if A’s story is a done-in-one, but either way, the potential conflict gets short-changed in favor of A and Rhiannon’s relationship.
Ultimately, this is still one heck of a read, and I’d love to see more along these lines from Levithan. There are so many more lives for A to borrow, and experiences to share.
Michael M. Jones is a writer, editor, and book reviewer. He lives in Roanoke, VA, with a pride of cats, way too many books, and a wife who occasionally steals whatever he’s reading. For more information, visit him and an ever-growing archive of reviews at Schrodinger’s Bookshelf. He is the editor of the forthcoming Scheherazade’s Facade anthology.