Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Love Is the Higher Law by David Levithan

The story begins as Claire, at school, realizes that something is terribly wrong. She watches the reactions of the people on the street; she tries to calm the elementary school kids as things get more and more chaotic. The Twin Towers fall.

The tale of three teenagers in New York City at the time of 9/11, Love is the Higher Law is part historical novel -- with brutal, realistic details -- and part gay love story. Two of the characters, Peter and Jasper, had met at a party before the tragedy hit. They had made a date for that night.

Peter is as devastated in his way as Claire is, but Jasper literally and figuratively sleeps through the whole thing. Completely shut off from the rest of the world, Jasper has developed an armor of steel. Not even 9/11 can break through his narcissistic self-absorption.

Will Claire stop her nocturnal wanderings and come back to life? Will Jasper ever feel anything?

This is a deep, brutal, but ultimately hopeful meditation about three teens facing a national disaster and its aftermath.

Occasionally, the conversations are a little long-winded, but the emotional fumbling between Peter and Jasper feels very real; the details of people's reactions are heart-wrenching. A slim, powerful book.

Kris Vreeland, the children's book expert at Vroman's bookstore, brought this one up in a book talk in '09. Really wanted to see how Levithan framed this event to hook young readers.

Bibliotherapeutic value:  Because this story is set in New York City, Peter is a gay character who is generally accepted and angst-free about his sexuality. Jasper, however, is Korean, and his parents are far more traditional. The book shows how the outside world can pressure and discriminate against GLBTQ people in subtle and soul-crushing ways.

Levithan, David. Love Is the Higher Law. New York: Knopf/Borzoi, 2009. 

ISBN: 978-0-375-93468-1. $18.99.

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