This is a “companion novel” to Every Day, and so I did not feel like I had to reread the first book. But in some ways, it seemed like I was doing a reread, because the author went over the very same events, but from another perspective.
The first book was narrated by A, a being who wakes up each morning to inhabit a new body; all are approximately the same age and in the same geographical area, but not necessarily the same race, gender, or ethnicity. A takes on the external shape and characteristics of whatever body is the host for the day. On different days, A is, among other things: a drug addict, a suicidal girl, a morbidly obese boy, a football player, and a mean and spiteful girl. He would like to help them, but he doesn’t want to cause unintended consequences, so he tries to leave their lives relatively undisturbed.
This second book covers the same time frame as the first, but is narrated by Rhiannon, the 16-year-old girl A fell for while inhabiting her boyfriend Justin’s body. A wanted to see Rhiannon again so much that he decided to risk telling her the truth about himself, something he has never done before with anyone.
Rhiannon thinks she loves Justin, her boyfriend of over a year, but he treats her shabbily. He wants her to give to him both physically and emotionally, but has no interest whatsoever in giving to her in return. Still, Rhiannon can’t imagine life without Justin. But A challenges her:
“There are many things that can keep you in a relationship. . . Fear of being alone. Fear of disrupting the arrangement of your life. A decision to settle for something that’s okay, because you don’t know if you can get any better. Or maybe there’s the irrational belief that it will get better, even if you know he won’t change.”
Rhiannon is not totally clueless though. She knows Justin is more focused on himself than on her. She knows it is less than wonderful to claim that Justin is a good catch because at least he doesn’t hit her.
However, when A enters Rhiannon’s life, she suddenly sees what it is like to be with someone who really loves and appreciates her; who sees her. The whole idea of A’s life doesn’t make sense to her, and yet she soon accepts he is telling her the truth.
She also comes to understand at least in theory – because of A’s constantly changing appearance – that the body is like a car; it is the driver that should be important. It’s not always easy for her though. Sometimes A is male, sometimes female, sometimes unattractive, and sometimes very attractive. She can always recognize A from the eyes, at least. Still, she is heterosexual, and it is hard for her to give herself to another female. More disturbing in a way is the fact that even when A is in the body of an *unattractive* male, she feels herself pulling away. Plus, she could never have a normal life with him; never have him be part of her circle of friends, or even part of her family:
“I can’t picture it with a different person every day. That doesn’t feel like a life. That feels like a hotel.”
And yet, neither can she stay away from A, because emotionally, he does give her what she needs.
Then one day, when A is in the body of Alexander Lin, he thinks this boy is someone Rhiannon could like a lot, and who would appreciate her a lot as well. So he manages to have Alexander keep memories of being with Rhiannon (most “hosts” just have foggy recollections of the day A has spent in their bodies), and A tells Rhiannon that he is leaving. A needs to find out what he is and if he can change it, and he wants Rhiannon to be happy. Rhiannon is torn; she likes Alexander, but she *wants* A.
Discussion: As Rhiannon learns what A’s existence is like and tries to adjust her feelings to his ever-changing appearance, she has an opportunity to contemplate the effects of looks, gender, clothes, and other outward indications of who is “inside” the outer trappings. She gets a keen sense of how unfair it is, but has difficulty overcoming her own socialization and “wiring.”
Leviathan doesn’t really provide an answer to the problems presented by A’s situation, but at least he brings them to our attention. This story is an excellent catalyst to get readers to think about social conventions.
Levithan leaves his story open-ended but not in an unsatisfactory way. We can see it could end up better for everyone, but we can also see there is room for a sequel if Levithan wants to write one.
Evaluation: This is a very creative book, although you might feel you are already familiar with much of it if you read the first book. Still, it is a great choice for book clubs.
Published by Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House, 2015