Are We There Yet? by David Levithan

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Are We There Yet? by David Levithan

Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Present tense, stream of consciousness, over-styled navel-gazing at its best, this is the kind of intimate yet cool book that will have its teen target audience eating right out of its hand. Lovely!
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: February 2007
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
ISBN: 978-0007191406

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Elijah and Danny Silver don't get on. Way back in the mists of time, when Danny was small and Elijah was tiny, they were inseparable. But something has changed. They have grown into very different young men. Sixteen year old Elijah is the New Age, crusty type. He's gentle, kind, dreamy and introspective. He beams upon people with a kind of beatific grace and people like him for it. Twenty-three year old Danny is uptight, career-minded, brand-conscious. He's always impeccably turned out. He's so intent on where he's going, he often forgets where he actually is. Elijah feels disapproved of by Danny and stubbornly refuses to even try to live up to someone else's standards. Danny is both jealous of and infuriated by Elijah.

Seeing this, their parents engineer a shared holiday to Italy, hoping that an enforced togetherness will reignite the genuine bond they have lost.

Oh, goodness me, I loved this little book. I don't often wish myself a teenager again - everything was far too intense in those days to even think of revisiting them. But immersing myself in the Are We There Yet world of introspection and inner meaning, I suddenly felt horribly old. David Levithan knows his audience. If Are We There Yet was a novel written for a haggard adult like me, I'd have lost no time in criticising its navel-gazing, its over-styling and its self-consciousness. It's written in the present tense, in a stream of consciousness style veering from Elijah to Danny and back to Elijah. It's full of intimate, surreal metaphors and existential ponderings, but it's also punchy, light and bright. I don't think there's a chapter longer than half a dozen pages. Some are mere paragraphs. This whole book is a metaphor for the adolescent. It's self-aware, it's self-obsessed and half the time it's out of its own body. It's also full to the brim of a confused love afraid to give itself. What would be pretentious in a book for adults becomes utterly apt, sincere and even profound in a book for the adolescent.

The plot is moved along slightly by the appearance of Julia, a love interest for Elijah and of Ari, an old schoolfriend of Danny's. Julia's shadow looms large over the novel, but it is Ari who acts to propel the brothers towards the epiphany that they do love each other after all. I loved this subtle twist - since when did any adolescent assign the right significance to anything? What seems crucial is so often, with hindsight, trivial and the trivial, years later, becomes so obviously pivotal.

Are We There Yet is about being young, is about growing up, is about family ties, is about independence, is about being able to give love without reservation. It leaves you feeling good, and best of all, it does that without any loss of cool. And as we all know, retention of cool is absolutely vital. Pre-teens will find the artfulness of the book inaccessible and parents may be concerned over the mentions of pot and acid, but Are We There Yet will be read and read again by anyone over the age of thirteen. Including nostalgic adults like me.

A similarly whimsical book for slightly younger readers is Holes by Louis Sachar. Alison Prince's Jacoby's Game also taps into the teenage penchant for introspection exceedingly well.

Thank you to the publisher, Harper Collins, for sending the book.

Buy Are We There Yet? by David Levithan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Are We There Yet? by David Levithan at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Are We There Yet? by David Levithan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Are We There Yet? by David Levithan at Amazon.com.


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Magda said:

In my time they didn't do books like that for teenagers, not really. I am not sure if it was such a loss, as the world of supposedly grown up literature is full of books like that: infuriating to adults but immensly appealing to teenagers and what you would deem Very Young Adults (but this demographic seems to sometimes stretch to about 30).

One of my favourite ones was stream-of-consciousness, vague-musings around subjects, no-action but uber-cool gay love story by an experimental poet called 'Czech Jewellery'. Ouch. It was awful. I loved it.

I fear I am old... No, actually I am glad and smug. I never thought that the state of perpetual teenagedom is something to aspire too. I think this is why I am out of touch with modern culture.

Jill replied:

No, for style we had to go for adult books too. You're just a big ol' mizzog!