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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Review: Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan


Title: Love is the Higher Law
Author(s): David Levithan
Genre: YA contemporary
Page Count: 176
Publisher: Knopf Books

The Summary: 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.

David Levithan has written a novel of loss and grief, but also one of hope and redemption as his characters slowly learn to move forward in their lives, despite being changed forever.

The Review: After finishing this book, the first thing I was convinced of was that I was a fool for not having tried any of David Levithan's work in the past. I am in love with his writing, I love how he can fluidly change writing styles for different characters and yet still has the same signature Levithan writing underneath it all. Beautiful, lovely prose. I can't praise it enough.

That being said, I thought the linking between characters was a bit flawed, specifically in how Claire fit into the equation. The interactions between Jasper and Peter really came to life, but their interactions with Claire doesn't work half as well. I wanted to like Claire, I really did, but I think her role as a sort of catalyst between Jasper and Peter did her no favours. Levithan kinda assigned her the role of being the one who embodies the hope of post 9/11 and the goodness of humanity, and she's often portrayed as the observer rather than the participant of events. (i.e. the party) It's not that I think she never went beyond her symbolic role as observer and human goodness, but we just didn't see enough of her to get a sense of her personality beyond her designated role. I mean, I know she had a life outside of Jasper and Peter but it was never really shown to us readers. I just wish there was more variety in the shown Claire interactions. Maybe another POV from another character's perspective like Claire's brother or Marisol? I felt like Claire was one of those character sketches that had potential but just didn't go anywhere.

The Peter and Jasper characterization went much better, especially on Jasper's part. I loved Jasper's voice and personality, and how sardonic he was. Also, it's kinda sad, but this is one of the rare times I actually came across a snarky Asian protagonist in the english-written novels I read, so I doubly appreciate it. I'm not too sure how I feel about the portrayal of his parents though, the whole aloof father and overbearing mother thing. It was tipping on the verge of over the top stereotyping, but I decided that this didn't bother me much, and to keep in mind that this was how Jasper viewed his parents, and doesn't necessarily mean the parents are supposed to embody that stereotype themselves.

I liked Peter as well. What a music junkie he was. ♥ And as I mentioned before, the chemistry between Peter and Jasper was so sweet and awkward and I loved it. I thought this love worked out well with the title, a kind of connection formed in spite of the horror and sadness of the events of 9/11. I loved seeing Jasper from Peter's eyes and vice versa, something that didn't shine in at all the same way when we see Jasper or Peter's view of Claire.

The pace of the novel was nice and fluid, not so much in the traditional novel format way but more of the little short stories that build up and intertwine. I only wish that Claire's story was integrated better into this novel. And it brought back the day of 9/11 vividly in my mind, so real was the immediate setting, from the description of the towers and the very real reactions of the people in the city. I appreciated the balance of humour and solemnity and I can't wait to read more of Levithan's works.

The Verdict: A lovely read. While I wish we got more out of Claire, I'm convinced by the end of this novel that Levithan is a master storyteller, with exquisite writing and a lovely ability to switch between humour and sadness flawlessly. The romance between Jasper and Peter was one of the best mix of awkward and sweet love stories I've come across in a long while, and I clearly need to get my hands on more of Levithan's works.

Rating: 3.5
Enjoyment:: 95%

Title and Cover Discussion: LAWL I know that the title fits, but I keep messing up this title. I'm not sure why, but my brain keeps telling me that this book is called "Love is the Higher Order" instead of Law. I'm not sure whyyyyy I think this way, but there you go. And the cover tells you exactly the content of the novel (9/11) but I'll also confess here that the cover didn't connect with me. I'm rarely moved by night city skylines, I'll admit. Soooooo as I have a feeling my personal biases are going to influence the ratings too much to be of any worth to anyone, I'm going to chicken out of the title/cover ratings. Do feel free to tell me what you think of the cover and title though. =D (Surely I'm not the only one who constantly messes up this title?)

Note: Counts for POC reading challenge and GLBT reading challenge

9 comments:

hcmurdoch said...

No, you're not the only one who messes up the title! We got this into my library in the last month and I was intrigued. Even though you gave it a 3.5 I think I'll still give it a go, it just won't rise to the top super quickly.

Ah Yuan // wingstodust said...

@hcmurdoch,

Oh, I didn't mean for my 3.5 to deter anyone from reading this novel! It's really good, I swear. It's just that the lack of integration of one of the characters into the flow of the story held it back for me. I think plenty of people would feel justified in giving this novel a 4/5 but, I couldn't give it a A, so I decided to settle for a B instead. =D

iluvhersheys_andbooks said...

This book actually sounds really good. I think I should be slapping myself in the face too for not reading any of David Levithon's book, and this on will probably be the first. Great review, im adding it to my wishlist!!!

Ari said...

Ive been dying to read this. Now I plan on it :)

Melissa said...

What a brilliant review! I found and followed your blog from The Saturday Network. I don't know if I'd be able to stomach this book because of 9/11 and connections to it, but it sounds really good :)

ninefly said...

LOL I messed up the title multiple times while posting about this in other places, don't worry XD;
OH JASPER ♥
I'm almost done the review for this even though I haven't finished reading lol, will post it soon =D
btw, this applies for the February mini-challenge at GLBT challenge ;D

Amanda said...

I have this one on my shelf! I didn't realize it was a POC book, nice! :)

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I have wanted to read this for a while too. Interesting about Claire. I often wonder why there are debates about can white authors write POC characters and vice versa, but people tend to ignore can males write females and vice versa. Not that the POC issue isn't legitimate, but I think the gender one is also. Maybe the author just doesn't get the opposite gender well. I know I certainly don't!

Jessica said...

You will LOVE the rest of Levithan's books. He's amazing. His writing is so good, and he's great at putting these simple truths about life into words. I love him. (And he always has GLBT characters, so you can knock through that challenge in no time ;-) )

If you go to my blog, I have a video of a signing I went to for this book. He's reading Peter's first chapter out loud. It's really good. (Oh, here it is: http://www.foreveryalit.com/2009/11/david-levithan-signing.html)

He got the title from the U2 song "One," if that helps you remember it at all. "Love is a temple, love's the higher law, love is a temple, love's the higher law, you ask me to enter, and then you make me crawl." Love that song.

I love Jasper. I also love that he was a snarky Asian character. Or just a "normal" person, and not just there to fill some Asian sterotype.

I'm glad you liked this book! One of my faves!