Levithan’s Every Day: Taking Diversity Literally
by Dr. Michelle H. Martin, Beverly Cleary Professor for Children & Youth Services
University of Washington Information School
David Levithan’s Young Adult novel, Every Day (Alfred A. Knopf, 2012), offers a compelling study in diversity. Though the book is not without flaws, it takes the idea of walking around in someone else’s shoes literally: A, the protagonist, wakes up in a different person’s body every day. A, who is 16 when the novel opens, has always had this life. Sometimes A is white; sometimes A is black; sometimes A has full mobility; sometimes not. A has female days, male days, trans days, gay days and straight days. A can be sober or so strung out that nothing guarantees survival. Relationships present the protagonist few challenges...until A wakes up in the body of a creep of a teen boy and falls in love with his girlfriend, Rhiannon. After this happens, A makes a concerted effort to get back to Rhiannon to spend more time with her, which can be awkward when you are a different person every day and Rhiannon initially has no way of knowing that A is showing up as an inhabitant of many different bodies. A’s impatience to pursue a relationship with Rhiannon results in A’s “hijacking” people’s bodies and doing things that put them in danger or in compromising situations. But when they wake up the next day, they have no memory of what happened—only impressions that something the day before wasn’t quite right.
In classroom discussions of this book, my students and I have to be cognizant of not calling A a gendered pronoun because A is neither and both, although admittedly, A feels (at least to me and many of my students) more masculine than feminine, especially in the way A thinks and talks about women in parts of the book, and especially when A inhabits female bodies. I find discussions like these to be good preparation for helping my future students—pre-service and in-service librarians and teachers—engage sensitively with students and patrons who might be on a different place on the gender spectrum than they are.
I also use this as a good opportunity for some creative writing and thinking. In Every Day, each chapter is a numbered day in the life of A. I ask students to write another chapter as an identity that isn’t covered in the novel. It can take place anywhere in the story or can be a prologue or epilogue. This assignment has resulted in some fascinating, mind-bending reads. Students have written chapters in which:
- A wakes up as a teen taking care of his mother, who is undergoing chemotherapy but dying of cancer nevertheless;
- A is a pregnant 16-year-old who plans to keep and raise her daughter, despite her parents’ objections and the impact it will have on her ability to finish school;
- A is a teacher who isn’t 16 but 26 and finds when she goes to work that Rhiannon is one of the students in her class;
- A is a Post-It Note- and music-loving boy named Alexander who takes Rhiannon to the treehouse his dad built for him as a child and wakes with her in the morning...and A is still in Alexander’s body (and then the chapter ends, leaving readers wondering how he did it).
I have been impressed not only with the stories my students have created but with the personae, personalities and ways of life they have been able to explore through this exercise—an important experience for those who will work with kids and teens who are “fluid” in ways that we might sometimes find both surprising and challenging. But this is a literary journey worth taking.
On January 26, 2017, my colleagues and I explored issues of diversity and inclusion—as well as the resources we use like this one—in our webinar through Follett Community, "Promoting Inclusion, Social Equity and Diversity in Your Library." Check out the recording of my discussion with Craig Seasholes, K.C. Boyd and author Lynda Mullaly-Hunt. I hope you’ll become part of this important conversation as we all strive to be the best librarians we can be—for every type of student.
Michelle Martin, Beverly Cleary Professor of Children and Youth Services in the Information School at the University of Washington will offer some specific activities designed to help young library patrons see themselves represented in your library’s programming. Martin will also offer some reflections on how contemporary movements like #WeNeedDiverseBooks, #WeNeedDiverseReviewers, Reading While White and #OwnVoices are helping to move the genre toward inclusion and ways that individual libraries can make this happen daily in their own spaces.
- Promoting Inclusion, Social Equity and Diversity in Your Library
- #GoodTrouble in the School Library by K.C. Boyd
- Celebrating and Collaborating with Colleagues by Craig Seasholes
Originally posted January 18, 2017 / Updated January 26, 2017