Saturday, October 22, 2011

Starbucks, Prom, Pizza, and the U.S. Army

I think I am in the majority when I say I have read my fair share of love stories. Jane Austen makes me swoon, I'm a sucker for As Time Goes By, and after about 16 pages of Fried Green Tomatoes, I'm weeping. But David Levithan's anthology, How They Met and Other Stories, is different.

Starting in high school, Levithan couldn't concentrate in class and began to write short stories in the margins of his notebooks - one love story for every Valentine's Day - and decided to publish the collection (without really changing a thing about the original tales) in 2008. A collection of young adult love stories, and not a single one about any stereotypical situation.

A teenage babysitter gets set up with a Starbucks barista by his six-year-old client.

A couple falls in love on a airplane, only to discover 10 years later they were secretly matched by the check-in attendant.

A lesbian love story goes awry, only to find sollace in a childhood jump-roping tune.

I would say that there is a particular story that stands out, but the truth is that this entire collection is a must-read. Each tale is unexpected, and not every story is about falling in love. There are tears, heartbreak, long distance, graduation, and unspoken questions. There are regrets and lost opportunities, but also stomach butterflies and love letters and whispered secrets. Throughout the book, Levithan captures love and intersects it with coming-of-age in eighteen short stories.

What is particularly refreshing is that the author hasn't classified How They Met into any specific category. While it is YA, there is certainly an appeal to an older audience. The stories are both about falling in love and falling out of love. There are as many queer unions as there are straight couples. There is no particular setting - New York, Georgia, Florida, the middle of nowhere.

As seen in other books - like his co-creation with John Green, Will Grayson, Will Grayson - Levithan displays an uncanny ability to produce unique and powerful voices for each of his narrators. The reader can open up to any page in How They Met and find a distinct character voice.

The theme is what holds the collection together: how they met. As Levithan writes:

"It doesn't have to be on Valentine's Day. It doesn't have to be by the time you turn eighteen or thirty-five or fifty-nine. It doesn't have to conform to whatever is usual. It doesn't have to be kismet at once, or rhapsody by the third date.

It just has to be."

Levithan explores people, not abstract ideas. Eighteen stories. Eighteen couples. How They Met and Other Stories is absolutely worth the read.

Four of four stars

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