When I was a kid, I would look at other people and think, “I wonder what they’re thinking now?” or “How would that person react to…?” I was constantly thinking about what it would be like to see things from other people’s perspectives, and I suppose that’s one reason I liked characters and superheroes that could look inside people’s heads and also one reason Psychology was my second choice for my undergrad degree.
(spoilers under the cut)
While I’m happy with my first choice, there are still some times I wonder, “What if?” and then I come across this book by David Levithan that completely turns my What if on its head; this person CONSTANTLY lives inside other people’s heads. It was intriguing at first, but then as you plod on through the story (it’s really kind of a heavy read for a YA novel), you realize how horrible this guy’s got it. He has no physical identity because his consciousness travels from one body to another every day. He doesn’t even know if he’s a boy or a girl because there’s no physical determiner for that. I’m only using the male pronoun because the character refers to himself as a male although there are times when he’s not sure either.
Because this character has no physical identity, you wonder about his childhood. Levithan briefly delves into his past, about how, as a child, he was confused because his parents always changed when he was old enough to start recognizing faces. Can you imagine the frustration a BABY might feel that the faces he recognized one day ago as his parents are not the same when he wakes up the next? And because there’s nobody to explain to him why, he’s lived most of his very young life confused. It was only until he was a bit older that he understood his special condition and learned to be discreet about it.
It was a painful read for me. There are times when I didn’t want to be ME anymore, but here’s this character whose very existence has no tangible evidence save for the emails he sends himself to document his experiences. He lives through other people, and he accepts that (albeit painfully), and even works to make sure that the bodies he inhabits and the people he meets through these bodies find happiness.
If that isn’t self-sacrifice then I don’t know what is.
I love this book, but I don’t think I’ll be able to read it again any time soon.