Wide Awake

Wide Awake

4.2 8
by David Levithan

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The New York Times bestselling author of Every Day delivers an emotional and politically charged novel that’s perfect reading for an election year—and for every year—but most especially for those times when the very democratic process is called into question and basic rights are at risk.
In the


The New York Times bestselling author of Every Day delivers an emotional and politically charged novel that’s perfect reading for an election year—and for every year—but most especially for those times when the very democratic process is called into question and basic rights are at risk.
In the not-too-impossible-to-imagine future, a gay Jewish man has been elected president of the United States. Until the governor of one state decides that some election results in his state are invalid, awarding crucial votes to the other candidate, and his fellow party member. Thus is the inspiration for couple Jimmy and Duncan to lend their support to their candidate by deciding to take part in the rallies and protests. Along the way comes an exploration of their relationship, their politics, and their country, and sometimes, as they learn, it's more about the journey than it is about reaching the destination.

Only David Levithan could so masterfully and creatively weave together a plot that's both parts political action and reaction, as well as a touching and insightfully-drawn teen love story.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Levithan (Boy Meets Boy) again creates a refreshingly offbeat world to impart an uplifting message. In this novel, set slightly in the future, a gay Jewish man is elected president of the United States, much to the joy of gay teen Duncan, who worked on his campaign. But when the governor of Kansas-the decisive state-begins a recount and starts "disqualifying as many Stein votes as possible," narrator Duncan, his boyfriend and their campaign friends head to a giant rally in Topeka to stick it out until the race is decided. Along the way, Duncan meets new friends, struggles with his relationship, and figures out what it means to stand up and be "a part of history." The author includes some whimsical details, some of which work well (Duncan and his friends go to a "non-shopping mall" where, after "the prices were scanned in, you made a donation to a worthy cause instead of buying the stuff"), others of which are clever but rather distracting (the hero meets a boy named Sue who learns that his name fits because "there were parts of me that liked being a girl"). Not everyone will agree with Duncan's perspective, but most readers will find plenty to think about in terms of where our society is headed-and what role each individual can play in directing its future. Ages 14-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
VOYA - Nancy Zachary
Levithan continues to illuminate the emotional issues that present themselves in teen gay/lesbian relationships while catapulting the reader into a futuristic American liberal world. AIDS is an issue of the past, and democracy reigns through some humorous, fictitious changes. Decades from now, a gay Jew named Abe Stein has won the presidency of the United States, and his election is being contested in Kansas. Historical notes to the authentic Bleeding, Kansas, and the Boston Tea Party immediately draw the high school social studies student into the dialogue of the story. Allegorical factions play diverse political roles, including "The Decents" and the "God Squad." Duncan Weiss is the teen protagonist, in love with a more radical classmate, Jimmy. Readers watch his romance develop, understand his natural feelings, and observe sexual scenes that fit the characters' relationship. It is easy to anticipate Duncan's reactions to his female friends' dishonesty in their lesbian connection. Prejudice, tolerance, and freedom are key themes, and first love is equally significant to this high school drama. As the youth travel to Kansas to voice their support, parental concerns are noted, and the believable rallies and police presence move the narrative to its predictable yet enjoyable conclusion. Shelve this highly recommended title next to Levithan's earlier books with equal enthusiasm for the social milieu and characters he creates.
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-In this novel set in the near future, The Decents, who use God and family values to spread hate, are in the minority. The real Jesus freaks, who feel He would have loved everybody regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation, have prevailed. Gay, Jewish Duncan Weiss, 17, is elated when gay, Jewish Abe Stein is elected President of the United States. Then the governor of Kansas calls the election into question. The teen and a busload of his friends travel to Topeka to join millions in protest. Duncan's arc from well-meaning bystander to political participant stands as allegory to the uselessness of empathy without action. Levithan's dialogue is as natural and evocative as ever, and elegant, persuasive political speeches help sustain the wondrous mood. Duncan's friend Gus, a campy man-slut who ends each sentence with "la," provides much-needed comic relief. The members of The God Squad, Janna and Mandy, are equally natural and believable. Oddly, though, the romances lack juice. Duncan's earnest narrative will engage any teen who has felt powerless, but his militant boyfriend, Jimmy, is just too flat to care about. Keisha, Mira, and Sara, a love triangle of indistinguishable lesbians, speak of pain that readers never feel. The story still moves briskly, by force of the uncertain outcome more than by involvement with the characters. However, in conjuring a world where every vote actually counts, Wide Awake stands with Levithan's extraordinary Boy Meets Boy (Knopf, 2003) in sheer creativity of plot, setting, and message.-Johanna Lewis, New York Public Library Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
As if the gaytopic world he created for Boy Meets Boy (2003) wasn't radical enough, the setting in this protest-song/call-to-political-action/romance reaches even further into a near-magical realm where tolerance reigns supreme. Here, readers meet thoughtful, 16-year-old Duncan and his fearless, multi-racial boyfriend Jimmy at the threshold of a new political era where the first gay Jewish president of the U.S. has just been elected. When a recount in Kansas calls the victory into question, Duncan, Jimmy and a colorful troupe of friends and allies travel across the country to rally support. There's no question as to the nature of Levithan's agenda, but he avoids the risk of didacticism by balancing his hilariously unapologetic one-track bandwagon of a plot with a dedicated and eclectic assortment of fully fleshed characters from all walks of life. With wide-eyed optimism, he connects their unique stories to the very sweet and very real romance between Duncan and Jimmy into a cohesive, eye-opening journey packed with enough humorous, button-pushing, acoustic-guitar strumming satire to keep readers laughing, but with enough political wallop to fill them with urgency, hope and inspiration. (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher
“Levithan’s latest reaches out to shake readers awake, showing them how each person’s life touches another, and another, until ultimately history is made.”—Booklist, Starred

“In conjuring a world where every vote actually counts, Wide Awake stands with Levithan’s extraordinary Boy Meets Boy in sheer creativity of plot, setting, and message.”—School Library Journal

Product Details

Random House Children's Books
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.74(w) x 8.56(h) x 0.86(d)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

“I can’t believe there’s going to be a gay Jewish president.”

As my mother said this, she looked at my father, who was stillstaring at the screen. They were shocked, barely comprehending.


I sat there and beamed.

I think it was the Jesus Freaks who were the happiest the next day at school. Most of the morning papers were saying that Stein’s victory wouldn’t have been possible without the Jesus Revolution in the church, and I don’t think Mandy or Janna or any of the other members of The God Squad would’ve argued. Mandy was wearing her JESUS IS LOVET-shirt, while Janna had a LOVETHYNEIGHBOR button on her bag, right above the STEIN FOR PRESIDENT sticker. When they saw me walk through the door, they cheered and ran over, bouncing me into a jubilant hug. I wasn’t the only gay Jew they knew, but I was the one they knew best, and we all had been volunteers on the Stein/Martinez campaign together. After the hugging was done, we stood there for a moment and looked at one another with utter astonishment. We’d done it. Even though we wouldn’t be able to vote for another two years, we’d helped to make this a reality. It was the most amazing feeling in the world, to know that something right had happened, and to know that it had happened not through luck or command but simply because it was right.

Some of our fellow students walked by us and smiled. Others scoffed or scowled–there were plenty of people in our school who would’ve been happy to shove our celebration into a locker and keep it there for four years.

“It was only by one state,” one of them grunted. “Only a thousand votes in Kansas.”

“Yeah, but who also got the popular vote?” Mandy challenged.

The guy just spat on the ground and moved on.

“Did he really just spit?” Janna asked. “Ew.”

I was looking everywhere for Jimmy. As soon as the results had been announced, I’d gone to my room to call him.

“Can you believe it?” I’d asked.

“I am so so so happy,” he’d answered.

And I was so so so happy, too. Not only because of the election but because I had Jimmy to share it with. I had two things to believe in now, and in a way they felt related. The future–that was it. I believed in the future, and in our future.

“I love you,” he’d said at the end of the call, his voice bleary from the hour but sweetened by the news.

“I love you, too,” I’d replied. “Good night.”

“Very good night.”

Now I wanted the continuation, the kiss that would seal it. The green states had triumphed, the electoral college was secure, and I was in love with a boy who was in love with me.

“Somewhere Jesus is smiling,” Janna said.

“Praise be,” Mandy chimed in.

Keisha and Mira joined us in the halls, fingers entwined. They looked beamy, too.

“Not a bad day for gay Jew boys, huh?” Keisha said to me.

“Not a bad day for Afro-Chinese lesbians, either,” I pointed out.

Keisha nodded. “You know it’s the truth.”

We had all skipped school the previous two days to get out the vote. Since most of us weren’t old enough to drive, we acted as dispatchers, fielding calls from Kennedy-conscious old-age-home residents and angry-enough agoraphobic liberals,making sure the ESVs came to take them to the polls. Other kids, like Jimmy, had been at the polling places themselves, getting water and food for people as they waited hours for their turn to vote.

I felt that history was happening. Not like a natural disaster or New Year’s Eve.No, this was human-made history, and here I was an infinitesimally small part of it.We all were.

Suddenly I felt two arms wrap around me from behind, the two palms coming to rest at the center of my chest. Two very familiar hands–the chewed-up fingernails, the dark skin a little darker at the knuckles, the wire-thin pinkie ring, the bright red watch. The bracelet with two beads on it, jade for him and agate for me. I wore one just like it.

I smiled then–the same way I smiled every time I saw Jimmy.

He made me happy like that.

“Beautiful day,” he said to me.

“Beautiful day,” I agreed, then turned in his arms to give him that
this is real kiss.

The first bell rang. I still had to run to my locker before homeroom.

“Everything feels a little different today, doesn’t it?” Jimmy asked.

We kissed again, then parted. But his words echoed with me. I was too young to remember when the Supreme Court upheld the rights of gay Americans, and all the weddings started happening. But I imagined that day felt a lot like today. I’d heard so many people talk about it, about what it meant to know you had the same rights as everyone else, making anything possible. I knew that this time it was just the Presidency, and that Stein was likely to become more moderate to get along with Congress, especially since we’d only won by the margin of Kansas. But still . . . everything did feel a little different. Yes, the kids walking the halls around me were the same kids who’d been there yesterday. The books in my locker were piled just the way I’d left them. Mr. Farnsworth, my homeroom teacher, waited impatiently by his door, just like he always did. But it was like someone had upped the wattage of all the lights by a dozen watts. Someone had made the air two shades easier to breathe. I knew this feeling wouldn’t last. As soon as I realized it was euphoria, I knew it wouldn’t last. I couldn’t even hold on to it. I could only ride within it as far as it would carry me. The second bell rang. I sprinted into class, and Mr. Farnsworth closed the door.

“I expect to see you standing today,” he said to me.

This was the deal we had: If Stein won the Presidency, I would stand for the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time since elementary school. Even back then, I hated the way it seemed to be something rote and indoctrinated–most people saying the words emptily, without understanding them. I didn’t want to drone it unless I meant it. I’d always said the six last words, though. And today I said them extra loud, standing up.

With liberty and justice for all.

Meet the Author

David Levithan is a children's book editor in New York City. The author lives in Hoboken, NJ.

From the Hardcover edition.

Brief Biography

Hoboken, New Jersey
Date of Birth:
Place of Birth:
New Jersey
B.A., Brown University, 1994

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4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I liked this book a lot. It is idealistic but that is the point and its not ashamed of that. The main character is easy to relate to and the characters are interesting and fun.
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TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Decades from today, the results of the election are out, and for the first time in the history of the United States, a gay, Jewish president, Abraham Stein, has been elected. After the Greater Depression, the War to End All Wars, the Reign of Fear, and the Jesus Revolution, the moment has arrived. Seventeen-year-old Duncan, who has spent the last few months working with his boyfriend, Jimmy, as a volunteer at the campaign headquarters, can finally stand up for the Pledge of Allegiance because at last the words "with liberty and justice for all" make sense.

But soon everything will take a 180-degree turn. The governor of Kansas, a member of the opposition party, demands a recount. Stein is determined to fight back, and asks all the people who have elected him to go to Kansas and show their support. Everyone at the election headquarters decides to board their bus that night and join this pilgrimage to Kansas.

Duncan, always insecure, always wondering about what Jimmy will think and what will happen to their relationship, knows that going to Kansas is the right thing to do. It's the once in a lifetime opportunity to help write history, and he decides to board the bus despite his parents' disapproval.

However, the trip proves to be more challenging than he thought. Duncan and Jimmy's relationship seems strained. Their friend Keisha finds out that her girlfriend, Mira, was having an affair with another girl in the group. And when the group arrives in Topeka, Kansas, they have to endure the insults and vicious attacks of the Decents (the supporters of the opposition party). They camp out in the center of town, along with more than half a million other people, with not much food, only a few accommodations, and no quick resolution in sight. Will it be worth it? Will justice prevail?

When I pick up a book by David Levithan, certain things are a given. First, I know it's going to be well written. From a little poem, to a presidential speech, to a sex scene, Levithan proves once again with WIDE AWAKE that he's a talented writer and has a great deal of imagination. This entertaining novel, full of interesting characters, is a combination of a fun parody of good versus evil, and a love story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago