YA companion novel explores issues of gender, identity

A couple years ago I reviewed the young adult best-selling book, “Every Day,” by David Levithan. Although I thought the book was gimmicky and contrived, I was surprised to learn that a companion book, “Another Day,” was published in summer 2015.

After reading reviews that stated the book answered some questions raised in “Every Day,” I decided to give it a try.

I’m glad I did.

While the first book seemed preachy about the character A (yes, that’s the person’s name, and no gender is revealed), this book was told from the perspective of Rhiannon, the high school girl A falls in love with and tries to be with each day.

While “Every Day” focused on A learning more about his/her identity as he/she leaped from body to body each day, “Another Day” explores the roles gender, identity and physical attraction play in romance.

Rhiannon is a high school girl “stuck” in a terrible relationship with Justin, who doesn’t abuse her physically but doesn’t show her much emotional affection, either. Rhiannon’s friends do not approve of her relationship with Justin, but Rhiannon thinks this is how it should be.

That is, until A becomes Justin one day and Rhiannon gets a brief glimpse into how wonderful her relationship with him could be.

But Justin can’t remember much of what happened that day when he was inhabited by A, or what he felt toward Rhiannon during that time, so Rhiannon tries harder to find that spark between them.

Then she meets a stranger who knows far too much about the perfect day that she begins to believe what she is hearing.

I preferred this story over “Every Day” for several reasons. To me, Rhiannon’s story embodied the typical coming of age and realization that takes place in contemporary YA novels.

The book also explored the issue of why teens (and adults, for that matter) stay in bad relationships, and why it can be difficult to move past the physical attraction of another person’s appearance. While it’s easy to say that looks don’t matter, for Rhiannon, they do. She is more attracted to A when he/she is in a male body. Levithan is asking if it’s possible to fall in love with another person when that attraction is based solely on their personality. That’s something each person has to decide for themselves.

The book also explores a trending topic right now in literature and that is of sexuality and gender identity. The “We Need Diverse Books” movement is gaining traction to make changes in the publishing industry to promote literature that “reflects and honors the lives of all young people” with a mission of publishing more books with diverse characters, including LGBTQIA.

The fluidity of A’s gender raises issues of how people feel when assigned a gender, and how people are attracted to one another. For example, no matter which gender A inhabited, Rhiannon only felt attracted to A when in a male body.

“Another Day” works as a standalone book, although I believe it is helpful to read “Every Day” first for a better understanding from A’s perspective. It also reinforces the issue that although A has one day to be a different person, Rhiannon has her own life to live and continue to explore who she wants to be for more than one day. Most importantly, Rhiannon has the chance to learn about herself, her identity and her self-worth.

There was a section in the book where A and Rhiannon meet in the library and I especially loved Levithan’s use of the library to reinforce the power of literature on a person.

When A says he/she finds solace in libraries because “books are always there for me,” it is satisfying. “My life changes all the time, but books don’t change. My reading of them changes — I can bring new things to them each time. But the words are familiar words. The world is a place you’ve been before and it welcomes you back.”

Thanks to Levithan I’ve just added Blake Nelson’s “Destroy All Cars” — a book A recommends to Rhiannon — to my ever-growing to-read pile.

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