The great thing about David Levithan is that he writes books that manage to be ridiculously fun and breath-hitchingly poignant at the same time, and none of it ever feels inauthentic or far-reaching. That’s probably why he’s one of my favourite authors.
Hold Me Closer is a sequel of sorts to Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Tiny Cooper is one of the secondary characters in WG, WG, but he was far from forgettable and in Hold Me Closer, he receives the spotlight of the primary role that he deserves.
This story is told in the form of a musical script and there is as much going on in the musical numbers as there are in the directions in between them.
“People who don’t understand musical theater . . . tend to think of it as being unrealistic. I disagree. Because what is life if not a series of loud and quiet moments shuffled together with some music thrown in?”(introductory note)
Tiny (who is anything but in form and spirit) regales us with the story of his struggles – from the nerve-wracking business of coming out to his family, friends and, most importantly, himself – to the hilarious and painful lessons that his string of ex-boyfriends teach him. Throw in some hilarious song and dance numbers, a plethora of pop and Broadway references, and the ghost of Oscar Wilde and you won’t even notice you’re flicking the pages.
What shines most in this novel is, of course, Tiny’s search for love – he is so desperate for that endorphin high that he hurtles into each relationship with all the eagerness of a kid at their first theme park. However, not everyone is as appreciate of his larger-than-life heart, or his adamant optimism, as his friends and family are, and despite his good intentions the world isn’t quite ready to embrace his flaws and his flair.
“Try to capture what it’s like to never have squeezed yourself into somebody else’s expectations.” (92)
One of the most gut-twisting moments is when Tiny sings a ballad to a parade of his ex-boyfriends, a moment when he realizes that they aren’t able to see him the way he is – that to some, he is always going to be the Big joke, not simply that no one is going to go beyond the exterior, but that no one has the capacity to truly appreciate it either.
“If you think one musical number gets rid of all his insecurities, think again. He knows what’s right and what’s wrong. But he doesn’t feel it yet. And while it’s great to know the right words, in order for them to become your truth, you have to feel them, too.” (114)
Levithan always manages to reveal the great truths with a very simple turn of phrase (though they become magical in their power). That’s what makes his books so realistic, the mixture of the trivial and the wonderful, the mundane and the marvellous, and it reminds you that life can be like that outside the pages, too.
Though love is a central theme, this novel makes it clear that there are many types of it, and that romantic love is not the only thing that should define a life.
“The idea that two is the ideal, and that is one is only good as half of two. You are not a half, and you should never treat somebody else like a half.”(32)
Numerous YA novels get caught up in the story arc of finding that perfect someone, but with the addition of each ex boyfriend it becomes clear that it’s not the search for the perfect someone but the perfect himself that Tiny is spiralling closer towards.
“If act one in life is about finding yourself/ Then act two is about finding everyone else.” (81)
If there is one line that I would have a given a standing ovation to, it is that one. I read many, many YA books in my highschool days, and almost every single one had that moment of magical connection that a character share with one who understands the protagonist best, and you know what? Those books are way off the mark. That does not happen in highschool. You’d be incredibly lucky to find that type of relationship in highschool. And even if you were so, it should not be the be-all, and end-all that many YA books seem to present it as.It is ridiculous to think that there is simply that one, significant connection you’re required to make with your soulmate; there will always be opportunities for numerous important relationships in a person’s life, and the majority certainly won’t, and shouldn’t necessarily be of the romantic variety. To have that misconception drilled readers at such a precarious and vulnerable time as the adolescent period is mind-boggling to me.
Tiny’s search for love ends up being a search for himself. It is a cliche, but it’s a cliche that needs to be sung much louder for all the pre-teens and teens out there to hear. I love love love that this novel ends with Tiny secure in the knowledge of himself that he is now, and the himself that he could become in the future.