It’s entirely possible I’m reading too many books aimed at younger audiences (see this recent post), because I didn’t care for this one. By the end, I appreciated what Levithan was trying to do, and I also appreciated the creative, complex concept of the book. But because I didn’t like the main character, I couldn’t enjoy the book.
Levithan poses a fascinating sci fi concept in this book, which will be hard for some to get past, but if you’re a Star Trek kind of person this will be right up your alley. The main character, named “A” because he lacks a name, has woken up in a different body every day of his existence. He enters a host body that’s the same age he is; since he’s been alive for sixteen years, right now he enters the host bodies of sixteen year olds. He can access the knowledge and memories of his host body, but otherwise has total control of the body until midnight. At the beginning of the book he feels strongly that he should interfere as little as possible with the life of the host body, so he tries to do nothing out of character or that would get the host into trouble the next day.
If all that doesn’t make sense, this is a book that requires huge amounts of suspension of disbelief. We aren’t told why or how this is happening, since A himself has no idea. It just is.
The book begins with A waking up in the body of Justin, a self-centered teenage boy. At school A meets Rhiannon, Justin’s girlfriend. And his careful “no disruption” policy takes a nosedive when he decides to make Rhiannon fall in love with him. Not as Justin, but A.
Among the hard to believe concepts in this book is this one: A can wake up in any sixteen year old host body, but he seems to be tethered to a radius of a hundred or so miles. I can’t see any reason for this except as a plot device – A knows that wherever he wakes up next, he’ll be within a couple hours drive of Rhiannon. So he starts visiting her in his host bodies.
The problem with this book is that A is incredibly selfish and on the border of stalker-ish. He’s also judgmental, expecting Rhiannon to adapt to his life, and he’s arrogant. He believes that because he’s lived in thousands of different families for a day, he knows how life works. Now granted, he’s seen a lot of things, but in many ways, he’s experienced nothing.
Some of this is understandable. He’s never been in love before so how could he possibly know how to handle it. But he’s also very deceptive and for most of the book has no problem completely disrupting Rhiannon’s life, all in the name of “love”, which I’m not sure can possibly be established.
Levithan is a talented writer, and he does a good job of addressing these issues and acknowledging the difficulty A has in learning to have normal relationships when, as Rhiannon points out, he can’t ever know anyone for more than a day. Especially poignant was when he attends a funeral and realizes that he will never leave a mark on any other people because he’s never himself. Also sad was thinking about A as a child, never being able to form an attachment to anyone before he’s ripped away — only he thinks that’s normal until he realizes otherwise.
But for this book to work, you have to believe that A and Rhiannon love each other. Maybe younger readers will have less trouble believing in falling for someone in a single day but I’m much more of a “love develops over time” kind of person. If you compare this one to Eleanor & Park, it’s a no contest.