If I were any more cynical, I wouldn't have been able to enjoy this book. The borderline utopia presented in the setting isn't realistic; the world we live in is a cruel, insensitive, and prejudiced place, very unlike this town where everyone is accepted and kids are free to live their lives free of any anxieties deeply ingrained in their psyches since birth by a society run by hate and condemnation. Since reality is so far removed from the setting, while I believe this book was meant to be reassuring pat on the shoulder from the author to all of the lgbt teens burying themselves under layers of self-loathing in their efforts to become somewhat accepted by society, it could on occasion have an opposite effect, making them feel worse, since reading about how good it could be really drives home the point of how bad it is. For example, it's a little jarring when characters get called "gay" and "fag" and the first few times you don't realize it's not being used as an insult
. But the reason all this is done is so the author can clear away all the pre-existing expectations of what a gay teenager has to go through in high school, so he is free to write a simple story about what a high school romance would theoretically be like if our world was like this one.
So putting that aside, this is a very nice and enjoyable love story. Levithan remains my favorite author of Young Adult lgbt fiction, and really he's the only one that does it well. Frequently in this genre the author can't get past the fact that they are writing about gay teens and their book ends up being entirely about that without making itself worth anything as a novel. Levithan is consistently able to transcend these tropes and actually write a good book, and a lot of YA authors that churn out steaming piles of crap between two covers on a regular basis should really take notes from him. He also has a way of writing that, if you're able to suspend your disbelief for a while, gives you good feelings and really feels like he's telling you it's ok to feel the way you do, which is a nice change, and I've found reading him periodically to be somewhat therapeutic.
Another thing that seems to be overlooked a lot, is that if you look at this as a utopian writing, there are really a lot of good ideas here. The setting has a bunch of cool little idiosyncrasies: the "I Scream" shop that plays horror movies while you eat ice cream, the graveyard where everyone is buried with a lockbox containing a memory book that can be accessed by visitors, and the high school itself. These kids seem like they're still enthusiastic about life, and all these small things dotted around this setting really seem to do a lot to contribute to their happiness and senses of self.
As a closing note, this book was pretty difficult to find in my town and I had to have it special ordered; even if libraries had stocked it I would have been too embarrassed to check it out because of the inevitable judgmental looks. I remember one time checking out another of this author's books, "Will Grayson, Will Grayson." My mother was horrified to find it in my room and swiftly confiscated it, making sure no one saw her with such a filthy object when she went to turn it in. It's ironic, because these books are frequently very chaste and innocent, unlike popular novels concerning straight relationships, many of which are just sex-fests that nobody's mother is embarrassed to read or talk about in public (50 shades anyone?). For contrast, this book doesn't have any sex at all, and contrary to the books I brought up before, which are designed only to titillate, it's actually worth something as a piece of literature.
It's funny, because in the town that Levithan presents no one would have a problem with this book at all. I guess that's the point.