Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Review: Wide Awake

David Levithan's newest novel, released today, is a political novel set "in the near future." Here's the set up:
  • "The Greater Depression happened. The events of 3/12 and 7/23 happened. The Andreas Quake and Hurricane Wanda. The President launched his War to End All Wars, which only managed to create more wars and the tragic events of 4/5. The Greater Depression deepened. Millions of people died, and there was no way to erase their faces from the more renegade open news channels, which wanted to remind everyone how bad the government had let things get. The Decents and their program of Denial Education reached their peak."

The hero and narrator of Wide Awake is a Jewish, gay teen named Duncan who is engaged politically for the first time in his life. After all the troubles of his childhood and the generation(s) before, it seems as if a new era is on the horizon. His presidential candidate, Abraham Stein, a Jewish gay man with a partner and children, has been elected. People are behaving differently, celebrating their ethnic, cultural, and sexual differences. And supporting them all is a sizable group of Jesus Freaks.

  • "For the Jesus Revolutionaries, the answer was clear: Jesus would not be out waging "preventative" wars. Jesus would not be withholding medicine from people who could not afford it. Jesus would not cast stone at people of races, sexual orientations, or genders other than his own. Jesus would not condone the failing, viperous, scandal-plagued hierarchy of some churches. Jesus would welcome everyone to his table. He would love them, and he would find peace."

Sounds like a utopian novel so far, right? But there's a hitch. A hitch in the form of Kansas. Stein's election is being contested. To the tune of 1,000 votes. (Sound familiar?) Stein calls all his supporters to Kansas and Duncan and his friends head to Topeka to support their candidate.

While Wide Awake is a political novel, Levithan does not abandon the everyday. Duncan struggles in his relationship with gorgeous Jimmy, teachers can be kind or belligerent, parents are sometimes more conservative than you'd like, and friends take sides in everyday breakups. But, in the end, Levithan's message is one of hope. People can be good and good people can change even the worst-case scenario into a better present and future.