Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan

I have read several of David Levithan’s books: Boy Meets Boy, Naomi and Ely’s No-Kiss List, and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Of those three, I liked Nick and Norah the best, but you can tell from the review that I had some reservations about it. (I did enjoy the movie, if you were wondering.) I think that I have trouble relating to the characters in David Levithan’s books, though I can’t quite put my finger on why. There is often something reserved about them, something that makes me feel as if they are a little bit too cool for me.

Love is the Higher Law is about three teenagers: Claire, Jasper, and Peter, and how the events of September 11th affect them individually and bring them together. September 11th is a difficult time to read about – I have read many adult novels that are set in New York before September of 2001, and I have experienced that growing sense of dread as the book moves closer and closer to the date, knowing that the story is about to change for the characters in ways that they cannot yet know or understand. Levithan sidestepped the dread by having the book begin at the moment of the attacks and having his story deal with the day of and the aftermath. Claire, at school, worries about her mother and rushes to reassure her brother. Jasper, who slept through the first part of the day, continues to deal by withdrawing from the world. And Peter, who was skipping school to buy Bob Dylan’s new record when he saw the second plane hit, is somewhere in between. He’s drawn to Jasper, but his friendship with Claire and his love of music help him deal with what he has seen. In the end, the three of them learn together how to face what has happened and what it means to be changed and to move on.

Of all Levithan’s characters that I have read, Claire is the one that I relate to the most. Though I was far away from New York, her fears and experiences most closely paralleled what I remember about September 11, and her compassion made her an easy character to like. Jasper, on the other hand, was a difficult character, but I think his story was probably the most rewarding. His journey focused on what it means to let the other people in and how closely we guard our hearts against the world. Peter was the everyman, the observer, and we learned a lot about the aftermath through his thoughts and experiences. Because he functioned almost as a tour guide, I feel much less strongly about his character than I do the other two.

As a teenager, I pored over novels set during the Civil War, World War II, and the Cold War, learning more than I realized about not just history but cultures and attitudes of the time. I imagine that teenagers in years to come will see this book in the same way that I loved my Civil War novels as they experience, with these characters, what it was like to be in New York in September of 2001. I enjoyed this book more than any of Levithan’s others, though I imagine that’s not a popular opinion. If you have enjoyed his other work, though, I think this one is worth a read.

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