My Valentine Reads: David Levithan and BLOOM!

h1 February 13th, 2008 by jules

Jules here, piping up to talk a bit about my valentine reads for this week, the ones to which I say, Be Mine. And if you yourself are in the mood for some stories about that complicated thing called love, then here are two recommendations for you.

First, there’s David Levithan’s new short story collection, How They Met, and Other Stories (Random House; January ’08; review copy). The rest of the world knows already that Levithan writes well about love (Boy Meets Boy and The Realm of Possibility), but this is actually my first Levithan read. Hey, a girl’s gotta start somewhere. Me likey, too. This is a collection of eighteen short stories, each one about love — straight, gay, sane, not-so-sane, old-fashioned and heart-tuggin’, young, old, you-name-it. Apparently, Levithan started writing a story for his friends as a Valentine’s Day gift every year, and now we have them in one spot in How They Met. “Not all of these stories are official valentine stories — I can, it seems, write about love and its follies year-round,” he writes in the opening author’s note. And he also goes way back to his very first story, written in high school, and also tells us, “instead of trying to rewrite them as I’d write them now, I decided to leave them as I wrote them in high school, give or take some punctuation and an awkward last line.” Hmmm, bold. I like that, too.

And how does he do? Well, I enjoyed each story, some better than others, but each one immediately hooking the reader in with Levithan’s strong characters, humor, and style — and each one with a theme that, as Publishers Weekly pointed out in their review, will resonate with the teens at which the book is aimed (“we were trapped in the limbo between where we were and where we wanted to be,” Levithan writes in one story). In the opening story, we meet Gabriel, a senior who becomes the object of a six-year-old’s matchmaking scheme (a six-year-old with impressive gaydar) and who falls hard for the dreamy Starbucks employee, known as “Starbucks Boy” (this story with the memorable opening line of “It was my aunt who pimped me out”). In “The Alumni Interview,” a young man has a college interview with his closeted boyfriend’s father, this one with the memorable closing lines of “it’s not the easy things that let you get to know a person. Know, and love.” In “The Number of People Who Meet on Airplanes,” arguably the book’s sweetest story, a happily married man investigates the assertion that he and his wife were the object of matchmaking by a ticket counter employee at an airport. In “Princes,” a young male dance student falls for his teacher (“he was beautiful in the way that a breeze is beautiful — the kind of beauty you feel gratitude for”) but learns instead where true love hides and, through it all, learns a bit about what it means to be a good brother. There are stories of skipping the prom; a story that you will read and re-read, a maddening and beguiling exercise in voice and the power of second person in a story; and his first story, written in high school, about how his grandparents met:

Maybe fate’s arithmetic is so diffuse that it’s not arithmetic at all.

The lights. The sleeve. The park. The taxpayers of Hoboken. The parents. The friends. The past. The swaying of the streetlights. The car passing. The present. The hopes. The break-ups. The conversations. The invention of the lightbulb.

It is the miracle of all these things coming together that constitutes love. The orchestra has been assembled . . . and now it plays.

It doesn’t have to be on Valentine’s Day. It doesn’t have to be by the time you turn eighteen or thirty-three or fifty-nine. It doesn’t have to conform to whatever is usual. It doesn’t have to be kismet at once, or rhapsody by the third date.

It just has to be. In time. In place. In spirit.
It just has to be . . .

(Those last two lines are actually indented a bit, not unlike in a poem, but WordPress, blast it, won’t let me indent there).

“The stories are not connected, and yet they are: By their underlying currents. By what they envoke (empathy and sympathy, tears and laughter) in readers. Each story has a different piece of the heart; when put together, they make for the loveliest of puzzles,” wrote Little Willow in her review.

Enthustiastically recommended.

Note: I read an advance reader’s copy of this book; quoted excerpts are subject to change.

Secondly, there’s the new picture book by Maria van Lieshout and designed by Molly Leach, BLOOM! A Little Book About Finding Love (Feiwel & Friends; December 2007; review copy), another book with its own web site. Now, this is going to be pretty much a review round-up of sorts here, because a) I have a headache the size of Texas but want to be sure I say something about this book, ’cause I liked it and it surprised me and b) I already read Fuse’s review, which I probably should have waited to do ’til I reviewed it myself. ‘Cause now I just want to say: Yeah, what she said. She really nails the book’s charms. So go read that (“this year
. . . I figured I’d actually promote a cute little pink book somewhat near to the season itself,” she writes. “A story of both infatuation and love, Van Lieshout presents a short, infinitely adorable book that packs a wallop with apparent ease . . . beautifully drawn, finely honed, and nice. Nice and sweet, this is best described as a gentle little sigh of a book. Worth reading”).

I will say that I set out to not like this book. Marketed as one of those books about “love for all ages,” I was very wary. This isn’t going to really be a children’s book, I thought. It’ll just be masquerading as one, one of those books children don’t care for but it gets enthusiastically passed from adult to adult under the guise of “children’s lit.” I mean, just read the book’s official publisher summary: “Bloom isn’t interested in playing in messy mud puddles with other pigs. She’d rather galavant among pretty flowers. Bloom LOVES flowers and other pretty things. She also likes attention. And when a beautiful butterfly, a ‘flying flower’ wafts by, she falls head over heels in love. But she soon learns that attraction is fleeting, and friendship brings a deeper, more satisfying love.”

What kid is going to like this? you wonder. Well, Fuse addresses this, too. Again, because I’m mostly brain-dead right now, go read that review, if you’re so inclined (“I think Bloom leaves the door open enough to introduce other aspects of love. Kids who adore cats that don’t love them back, for example”). And I’ll add that I’ve kid-tested this, and it gets the “again! again!” seal of approval, and children are drawn to it. Perhaps a large part of the appeal is the art. Fuse writes:

This book is all thin black lines and understated swoops of the pen. Van Lieshout then combines pen-and-inks, watercolors, and crayons at strategic points. The result is sometimes very spare and often quite striking. Emotions tend to be indicated by either a slight reddening in a character’s face or, in moment of extreme emotion, the entire page will match what someone is feeling. When Bloom blushes it sometimes causes a whole sea of red to erupt around her. The blue butterfly she falls in love with is the only color in this book that isn’t red-based, and I was particularly fond of the moment when it disappears above. As Bloom stands, four feet apart, nose pointed up in the air, only the smallest dot of blue is visible in a clear white sky above. And when she screams on the next page, a crayon cloud of anger and frustration emerges from her, reminding the reader of the pigeon’s temper tantrum in Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!. This is a little book too, coming in at a mere 7″ X 7″. Smart move, since I don’t think a large format could have supported the artist’s spare style.

A good choice for your Heart Day read (“This paper-over-board book’s stylish design and small square format designate it as a natural for Valentine’s Day,” wrote Publishers Weekly). Here’s a little taste of the book. Happy Valentine’s Day to all . . .

{Addendum: Kelly Herold at Big A little a covered BLOOM! today, too. Go see.}

8 comments to “My Valentine Reads: David Levithan and BLOOM!

  1. Ever since I read Boy Meets Boy I’ve been enamored of the Levithan view of love. It was such a surprisingly sweet book – I think How They Met will be a lot of fun. And I’m snickering at the pigs. No, no, that doesn’t sound like anything promising, either, but I’m glad we were wrong!

  2. That Levithan book is my next purchase. S is a huge Levithan fan already, and will adore the stories. I almost bought it two weeks ago(ish), but wanted to wait until I had a coupon. Terrible, but true.

    I love the excerpt. Talk about a talented teen (not that it’s surprising, but still!)

  3. I figure that if you *and* Fuse like a picture book, I absolutely have to get a copy for the library. Obviously it won’t be in until after Valentine’s Day. I almost always wind up ordering the year’s holiday books a month or so after the holiday happens.

  4. Let me know what you think, Adrienne. You might actually disagree with us, for all we know, and I always like a good, passionate picture book argument. 🙂 If you like it, though, that’s all the better.

  5. I reviewed this one too, Jules 🙂 Must be that time of year!

  6. Apparently Jason ordered Bloom because I came to work, and there it was. I love the art and design. Those pink endpapers with the hearts are to die for, and the illustration of Bloom staring up at the butterfly that’s just a teeny tiny dot at the top of the page is a little piece of perfection. Overall, I’m not sure what a child would make of this in terms of meaning, but it’s certainly engaging enough to hold their interest. I like it.

  7. Awwww. Thanks for liking my review! I’m with you on not setting out to like the book. There’s nothing worse than a “children’s” book that’s all about adult issues, but in a 32-page form. Thank God “Bloom” also has kid-appeal out the wazoo. I suppose the book trailer prematurely charmed me as well. Doggone well-made book trailers.

    Thanks again for the link!

  8. […] posted before about one of Maria’s books — back in February of last year after the 2007 release of […]

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