Book Review: Every Day, by David Levithan

Every morning, when A wakes up, he’s in the body of a different person. He can access the memories embedded in his new body and uses them to navigate the world for a day before going to sleep again, only to repeat the process in the morning, and he’s been doing this his entire life. When your life changes utterly every single day, how can you form a sense of self? What about attachments? Who are you, really? These are the questions posed in David Levithan’s Every Day, a delicious, fascinating, and intriguing piece of speculative fiction. I’m including some vague spoilers in this review, so if you want to approach the book untainted, you may want to set this aside to read when you’re done.

I find the premise of Every Day fascinating, because it kind of touches on a fantasy some of us have had at some point in our lives. What if you could reinvent yourself every single day? It sounds kind of neat (just look at Lady Gaga), but the day-to-day grind is something very different. With the inability to form any kind of lasting connections, A is trapped as a loner, and this existence is inherently isolating. While A’s awareness travels between bodies and the character maintains memories of the things that have occurred while occupying various bodies and lives, there is no one to share these experiences with.

Until A meets Rhiannon, and falls in love with her. A breaks all the internal rules about not interfering and begins thinking of her constantly, long after A transfers out of the body of her boyfriend Justin. Soon, A starts looking for ways to connect with her again, and ultimately reveals the secret. She is understandably skeptical, but A convinces her, and it creates a conundrum: Rhiannon may love A, but at the same time, how can she hope to have a stable relationship with someone who disappears each night and appears in a different place as someone new in the morning?

Both characters are faced with tough choices while culminate in an intense ending, but I won’t give that away for you.

What I’m interested in with Every Day is that Levithan explores gender and sexuality as he moves A through different bodies. A sees ouself as neither a boy nor a girl, though sometimes the character has more masculine and feminine days. These days do not necessarily correlate with the bodies A inhabits, though. Throughout the book, A’s gender is both ambiguous and fluid, and this is underscored by the experiences A has, the way A talks about gender, and the way A experiences attraction.

Along the way, A encounters transgender teens, gay teens, and others along the spectrum of gender and sexuality. Some of these experiences add insights into A’s own understanding of gender, and notably, they aren’t alienating or upsetting for A. A is comfortable in a lot of settings, something you kind of have to be when your world is turned upside-down every single morning. As A navigates this world and takes the reader along, it forces readers to wonder where their notions about sexuality and gender form, how they develop, and what role the physical body has in perception of self.

Rhiannon has a harder time with this, because she’s used to a world where gender remains stable, and she’s fairly strongly heterosexual. She knows she’s attracted to boys and she has a hard time when A appears in the body of a girl. She also reveals her prejudice when A wakes up in the body of a fat boy. Levithan highlights Rhiannon’s flaws with these scenes and also challenges the reader; when the person inside remains the same but she rejects the exterior, what does this say about her? What does the reader’s response to the situation, for that matter, say about the reader?

Gender and sexuality become critical themes in the book, although they are sometimes a tad heavyhanded. For the most part, though, Levithan manages to keep a good balance; these scenes are handled gracefully and they are contextually appropriate, and they are presented in a way designed to challenge, but not to obtrude on the actual story and the text. While A and Rhiannon may feel a deep connection to each other, one that should theoretically transcend bodies, Rhiannon has limits. A doesn’t, since A is used to this life, and sometimes struggles with Rhiannon’s prejudices.

Levithan has done something rather bold here with gender and sexuality in a thought-provoking text. In the initial portions of the book, A’s gender could be read and assumed as male; A inhabits male bodies and seems to exhibit heterosexual attraction. As A wakes up in female bodies and starts talking about gender and sexuality, the reader’s assumptions are shattered. For readers who might be struggling with gender and sexuality, the text could be highly enlightening; it’s the kind of book I wish I’d had around when I was a teen. Whether you’re not sure about who you are or you’re trying to support a friend who is grappling with these issues, Every Day brings them front and centre in a highly accessible format that encourages thought and discussion.

Don’t mistake this for an ‘issue book,’ though. Sexuality and gender play a huge role in Every Day but the core of the book is about the story and the connection between A and Rhiannon. And you can read it on the surface just for that, although you will get some subversive gender messages along the way. That’s my favourite kind of book, the one where you come for the story, and stay for the revolution.