Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review: Every You, Every Me

My coworker handed me a copy of Every You, Every Me by David Levithan last week, and just flipping through it pulled me in. I put aside the book I was reading and jumped right in. The book is unusual and captivating from the very first page.

Something has happened to Evan's best friend Ariel - we the readers aren't let in on what exactly has happened to her or where she might be now - and every day seems to be a struggle for Evan to put her behind him. Now that she's gone, he's left with a lot of acquaintances. The only real friend he has is Ariel's boyfriend, Jack, and the two are left clinging to their memories of the one girl they both loved. Out of the blue, Evan starts receiving photos of himself and Ariel and these other kids he has never seen. Is Ariel leaving them for him? Jack tells him it's impossible (Ariel is dead gone and not coming back), but the mystery of the photos drives the story forward.

The book contains full color prints of these photographs, but the most compelling part of the novel is the typesetting. The book reads like a long letter that Evan is writing to Ariel, with words or whole sentences struck out (but still legible) like he can't wrap his mind around the correct words to write. (You can get an idea of what I'm talking about in the preview here.) It reminded me of one of my favorite novels, House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (or really anything by Danielewski), which plays with formatting as much as it plays with story. When this technique is done right (as it is here and in House of Leaves), the story is much stronger for it, and it provides the reader with a mechanism to compel the story forward. I'm not saying I want to see every author try this, because it takes a deft hand to do it right, but when I find someone who does it justice, I'm happy no matter where the story goes.

That being said, I did have some issues with this book. **HERE BE SPOILERS** For the entire length of the book, we're left wondering if Ariel is dead or alive. Did she commit suicide or just attempt it? Is she in a coma or in a locked hospital ward or did she just run away? Evan and Jack had a part in whatever happened - the book kind of becomes an I Know What You Did Last Summer thing - but it's hard to reconcile what their part might have been if we don't know what happened. And you know what? That was all fine to me. The mystery drove the story forward. And then. The big deus ex machina comes in the form of a girl who informs them that she was really Ariel's best friend all along, and that she blames them for her now being institutionalized. Really? Secret best friends? Especially a secret best friend who is angry that her friend is still alive because the girl's public best friends saved her? Sorry, not buying it. And I'm not quite so sure why Evan feels so guilty about saving Ariel's life or why he thinks her parents hate him so much. I mean, I know how teens can get all in-their-heads about stuff, but I had a hard time reconciling Evan's feelings with the conclusion. **THERE BE SPOILERS**

Comments about the ending aside, I really loved this book. From the title (taken from a Placebo song) to the  formatting to the photos to the mystery to the general teen angst, I was completely there and in it. This book is definitely worth a look, if for nothing else than to experience the journey of it.

Buy this on Amazon
Buy this at a local indie through Indie Bound

3/5 stars (the ending knocked it down a bit for me)

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