Inspired by a discussion with a reader (hi, Lorena!), I decided to write a post about diversity in YA. But then I quickly realized 1) "Holy shizz, there's way too much for one post alone!", and 2) "Holy shizz, I am highly unqualified to talk about this!". So I called in reinforcements in the form of authors and fellow FYAers; together, we'll be bringing you weekly content for Heck YA, Diversity!. -Mandy W.
Every Day by David Levithan is the June 2013 FYA Book Club Selection. It’s also a book that deals with diversity, gender, sexual orientation and love in very unique ways. Mandy C. read the book and immediately fell (HARD) for it, and thought it would be perfect to use for a discussion of diversity, namely main character (MC) perceptions by readers. Mandy W. has never read the book,* and therefore has no preconceived notions of who or what Every Day’s MC is. Below is a discussion between the two Mandys over certain passages in the book.
*Because y'all have yet to give her a book club chapter, which remains a source of constant angst! But she swears she's not usually this petulant, so please be in her chapter.
Every Day We're Visualizin': A Tale By Two Mandys
(And yes, that is an homage to the acronymic nephew-uncle duo of our time.)
It’s a little hard to explain the plot of Every Day without getting spoilery. Basically, the MC wakes up every day in a new body, in a new town. The body could be male or female, black, white, Asian, gay, straight, skinny, fit, obese … the sky’s the limit. Every day, the MC lives the life of the host body, experiencing what they experience, but a bit detached from the whole thing (since the MC has memories and a personality of their own). When the MC falls in love, everything changes.
Note: Names and gender-specific pronouns in the excerpts have been redacted to protect the innocent. And for the Mandys to feel like they're spies.
I wake up.
Immediately I have to figure out who I am. It's not just the body ... The body is the easiest thing to adjust to, if you're used to waking up in a new one each morning. It's the life, the context of the body, that can be hard to grasp.
Every day I am someone else. I am myself—I know I am myself—but I am also someone else.
It has always been like this.
Mandy W.: OK right away, I'm realizing that I'm a horrible person prone to making big, sweeping assumptions. I don't know if it's the writing style, or that I automatically associate a main character with its author until otherwise told, but I instantly thought white male. Didn't really assign a sexual orientation, so I guess that's somewhat of a plus
Mandy C.: I definitely thought the MC was male upon first assumption, too. I didn't really think about the race of the character, nor the sexual orientation. There's something about the matter of fact-ness to the language that makes me think guy. Teenage guy, to be more specific.
Mandy W.: Oh, it didn't actually occur to me to think of age for the MC. Maybe because it's YA, so I already know the MC will be teenager-ish? Thinking back of my initial mental image, I did imagine the MC distinctly on the older end of the teenage spectrum.
As for the white thing, I don't know why that factored into it, other than being accustomed to white being the default. [And shameless self-promotion! That'll be covered in a later installment of this series.]
The MC I've imagined also has spiky dark hair, for some reason. I think I associated the general tone of sad with emo hair. And of course, Sad Logan Lerman plays him in the adaptation.
Mandy C: I actually pictured the MC more with floppy brown hair, à la Logan in Percy Jackson.
Mandy W: Well, as long as we're in agreement with keeping Logan Lerman gainfully employed. He and Taylor Kitsch should be sending FYA gift baskets of champers and kisses on the daily.
When I was younger, I craved friendship and closeness. I would make bonds without acknowledging how quickly and permanently they would break. ... I am a drifter, and as lonely as that can be, it is also remarkably freeing. I will never define myself in terms of anyone else.
Mandy W.: I'm not really picturing anything different than what I did in Passage 1, i.e. still white teenage male. I'm trying to reimagine the MC as female, but I don't get as clear of a picture as I did originally.
Mandy C.: I think the "craving" of friendship and closeness hints a little more at a young girl and the stereotypical need of many young girls to "fit in," but on the whole, I, too, still get the male vibe.
I only see [them] once in the morning, a brief passing in the halls between first and second period. I find myself smiling when [REDACTED] comes near, and [REDACTED] smiles back. It's as simple as that. Simple and complicated, as most things are. I find myself looking for [REDACTED] after second period, and then again after third and fourth. I don't even feel in control of this. I want to see [REDACTED]. Simple. Complicated.
Mandy W.: I still see the same thing! I guess it's just really hard for me to shake my initial idea of what the character looks like, without any identifying traits to go off of.
Mandy C.: While I totally get what you're saying, because I'm the same way most of the time, much of this passage makes me think female. I'm being stereotypical again, but the fact that the MC is searching for their love interest between each class, smiling when they think about them, etc, seems girlier to me. But then again, the matter of fact end of the passage brings me back to male.
Mandy W.: Ha, I like the implication that I keep associating males with being more needy.
Mandy C.: You said it ...
We come to a corner where there are a few people protesting the festivities. I don't understand this at all. It's like protesting the fact that some people are red-haired.
In my experience, desire is desire, love is love. I have never fallen in love with a gender. I have fallen for individuals. I know this is hard for people to do, but I don't understand why it's so hard, which it's so obvious.
Mandy W.: Aww, that's a nice quote. But even when I'm picturing an androgynous person, they always favour one of the genders just a little bit more than the other. I guess I don't know what a smack-dab-in-the-middle androgynous person looks like.
Mandy C.: It's hard for me to imagine this too. I love the idea that someone could love for love's sake, but I can't quite wrap my head around a completely unbiased person. I don't know that I get either gender from this. (I just really like this quote.)
I feel guilty about how relieved I am to be a normal size the next morning. I feel guilty because I realize that while before I didn't care what other people thought, or how other people saw me, now I am conscious of it, now I am judging alongside them, now I am seeing myself through [REDACTED]'s eyes. I guess this is making me more like everyone else, but I feel something is being lost, too.
Mandy W.: I have a better idea of what the previous body that the MC was in than the current one. The relief and shame that the MC is expressing now makes me think that the previous body was a total ostracization target: obese, visible minority, bad hair, bad skin, B.O. and perspiration problems (but still male). And in other news, this exercise has certainly been illuminating of my jerk of an imagination.
Mandy C.: Since I read the book, I know exactly what the previous body was like. But, I could see how the MC could be female (devil's advocate much?). We ladies tend to be a bit more aware of our bodies and often see them in the very harshest of lights. P.S.—If you're a jerk, MW, I'm an awful stereotyper.
Mandy W.: OOH this is turning into one of those self-reflection things where we start by trying to understand the characters, but really WE'RE LEARNING ABOUT OURSELVES. So deep. Finger snaps!
I will never have a photograph of [REDACTED] to carry around in my pocket. I will never have a letter in [REDACTED] handwriting, or a scrapbook of everything we've done. I will never share an apartment with [REDACTED] in the city. I will never know if we are listening to the same song at the same time. We will not grow old together. I will not be the person [REDACTED] calls when [REDACTED]'s in trouble. [REDACTED] will not be the person I call when I have stories to tell. I will never be able to keep anything [REDACTED]'s given me.
I watch [REDACTED] as [REDACTED] falls asleep next to me. I watch [REDACTED] as [REDACTED] breathes. I watch [REDACTED] as the dreams take hold.
Mandy W.: I'm back at my original mental image (the Sad Logan Lerman casting call). Seems like I keep going back to that because those are the physical attributes that I've given to that personality. Even though I keep making the MC a white male, it's kind of fun to imagine based on personality and 'inner beauty' or whatnot. Which omg I've just made a distant allusion to Shallow Hal.
Mandy C.: To be completely honest, scrapbooking, to me, is a very feminine hobby. (I suppose, however, that the scrapbook could be a gift from a female to a male?) And worrying about these things seems more like the kind of things a teenage girl worries about. But, the whole watching while they breathe/sleep thing makes me think guy. So I'm still on board with SLL. (Also, MW, I know you haven't read the book, but don't let this horribly melancholy passage dissuade you.)
Mandy W.: Wait, are you saying Chad Kroeger is feminine? 'Cause he loves to LOOK AT THIS PHOTOGRAAAAPH. (Don't worry, I'm not linking to Nickelback. I may be a jerk, but I'm not cruel.)
Mandy C.: *shudder*
What say you, readers? Agree or disagree? Have other ideas on who Every Day’s MC is? Leave your thoughts in the comments. (Pro-tip: This might be interesting to discuss at your book club meetings!)