Author: David Levithan
Genre: Young adult, romance, LGBTQ
My Rating: ★★★★(3.5/5 stars)
“Love stories has the wrong feel to it,” David Levithan says, describing the tales he stacks together in a 2009 anthology. “I prefer stories about love.”
You can say lots of things about Levithan, but you cannot deny he has quite an understanding of the L-word. I have read enough of his books to know that he enjoys re-exploring the wonders of teenage romance, of feelings that bloom for the first time, and of how a young heart becomes an adept recipient of happiness and pain.
How They Met and Other Stories is a good receptacle of this understanding, which the author breaks into bits and pieces that we can devour in one sitting.
Admittedly, the anthology contains tales that are so reminiscent of Boy Meets Boy, The Realm of Possibility, and even his collab works Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Rachel Cohn) and Will Grayson, Will Grayson (John Green) that I was struck with a peculiar kind of nostalgia when I finished it. I liked the aforementioned novels. After reading How They Met, however, I came to a realization that my favorite Levithan books—as reflected from my favorite stories here—are those that swerve from his usual recipe.
These favorites, Every Day and The Lover’s Dictionary, are for me his most mature books to date. They toy with romance and love too, but Levithan’s changed approach contain more than the ability to give the readers a tingle of bliss from fictional first love or the twinge of pain from losing it. Every Day zeroes in on the how true love sees no gender (in more ways than one), the nature of good and evil in a person, and how a rotten society can downright denounce something that it cannot seem to understand. The Lover’s Dictionary holds the power of seducing readers into squinting between the lines…and even at the lines that came after the last word of each pseudo-lexicon entry.
How They Met and Other Stories is obviously more of a brother of the others. The stories touch on romantic (straight, gay) relationships as well as parent-child and sibling relationships. There are sweet ones, tragic ones, crass ones. Of the eighteen stories, I most certainly enjoyed How They Met, a series of flash fiction that tells how the narrator’s grandparents crossed paths; Princes, a story of a Jewish guy-dancer and how his younger brother stood up for him so the latter can stand for himself; and the one I think is the shiniest gem, The Number of People Who Meet on Airplanes. I became so in love with this piece I am more than willing to read a novel-length version of it! It follows the story of a couple which turns out to be one of the “products” of the plane seat-matchmaking of a man at the ticket counter. It is in this story that Levithan altered his writing slant slightly. It was devoid of teenage-y angst, confusion, and sometimes too cloying sweetness. The theme of soulmates, destinies, and if humans have a say on where fate would lead them are touched in a most memorable way, too.
The compilation as a whole is akin to a box of hard confection with a wide range of emotions as its flavored fillings. Mostly you will get sweet, but there are bittersweet too, and even some that cannot seem to decide which of the heart’s taste bud it would like to trigger more (I meant this in a good way!). Levithan recognizes the power of his craft and uses it as best as he could. However, if it were not for the abovementioned stories, I think How They Met would only seem a footprint of his other stories I have loved in the past.
3.5 stars for a good read!