Originally started as a short prose piece to be included in the LGBT anthology How Beautiful the Ordinary, which I also enjoyed, this novel is an amazing testament to Levithan's ability to weave poetry into a full-length story.
Inspired by real-life events, the story finds its center with Craig and Harry, ex-boyfriends who decide to try to break the Guiness World record for longest kiss. Their hope is that the kiss will draw attention to the recent gaybashing of a fellow student at their school, Tariq, and with that draw attention to homophobia in general. Several other characters' stories are explored alongside this, weaving in and out of Craig and Henry and Tariq's story. Peter and Neil, boyfriends dealing with trust issues and their own family. Cooper, closeted and seeking positive attention from myriad strangers of gay dating apps. Ryan and Avery, small-town boys who meet at a gay prom and are immediately drawn together.
All throughout this, the stories are narrated by the spirits of gay men who died of AIDs during the AIDs Crisis of the 90s, a devastating time for the gay community. The most beautiful prose is found in these sections, where the spirits discuss what their lives were like, what their deaths were like, what they hope for the new generation of gay children. It is so heartrending to read, but also at times extremely motivational and inspiring. So many wonderful life lessons come from these narrators.
What really compelled me to read this book, after sitting on it for over a year, was learning that one character was a transgender boy. I myself am a gay transgender man, and let me tell you, I have struggled so much trying to find any representation of this group I belong to in any media. It is extremely few and far between. It makes me so, so happy that Levithan thought to include a character like Avery in his novel, it makes me so hopeful for future gay (and bi) trans boys struggling to figure out who they are, seeking out relatable characters to help guide them. Being transgender is difficult to grasp, and there is a lack of representation in media, moreso for transgender boys and men. There is an even deeper lack of gay or bisexual trans characters, and again moreso for transgender boys and men. I am 21, and I didn't fully understand and accept who I was until after that 21st birthday. When you're gay and trans, gender non-conforming to boot, you see what little transgender rep is there and its all very straight, very gender conforming transgender people, and you think "well, all of my feelings about my assigned gender being suffocating must be wrong. I'm not like them. I'm straight, I like girly things, I must just have issues." And even when I have come out, doctors still try to tell me I am just someone with issues...
So, that is why characters like Avery mean a lot to me, and should mean a lot to everyone. They are so important.
There is one little nitpick I have: Avery mentions being put on hormones before puberty, to keep him from having the "wrong puberty." This is certainly an ideal, but in reality most young children who are pre-pubescent or just starting their first puberty would not get hormones. They would get a special class of medication called puberty blockers, and left on those for a few years before being given HRT.
Also I disliked the use of Avery describing himself as "born in a female body" multiple times, as this is an outmoded conceptualization of gender dysphoria and assigned sex, but I understand these arguments are probably not something people outside the transgender community are privy to. Though there are a great many more medical professionals who are beginning to understand this issue which makes me happy.
TL;DR It is a beautiful and wonderful book, please read it.