Levithan, David. 19 Love Songs. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2020. 320p. ISBN: 9781984848635. $17.99. HS, OT ****
Nineteen short stories, all romances, most with queer protagonists that explore the sweet, sad and steamy sides of young adult love all along the gender and sexuality spectrums. Some of these stories are light-hearted or silly, some are sweetly sad and nostalgic. Some are autobiographical, and it’s really fun to hear David Levithan reminisce about his own relationships decades later. Others are fiction and bear Levithan’s trademark clever sensitivity to the trials of coming of age. Have a return visit with A from Every Day or the protagonists of Two Boys Kissing. Or encounter new teens falling in love at a quiz bowl competition or in a gender bending take on the iconic quarterback and cheerleader story. You never know who you’ll meet and fall for in a collection like this!
This is a charming, but somewhat disjointed collection of short stories. They were each written by David Levithan as part of his Valentine’s Day tradition to write a love story and send it to his friends. Because they were written years apart and not intended as a collection (this is the first time they have been brought together), they have a little trouble hanging together in a coherent narrative. They are clearly thematically linked, but the way they jump around between fiction and memoir, spanning from the 1990s to day, makes it difficult to keep in the flow. The characters are wonderfully quirky and their choices and thought processes ring true. There is the question throughout of which characters were David Levithan himself, which were semi-autobiographical and which were complete fiction, and his fans will enjoy that aspect. Plus for library and book-loving readers in general there are nods and winks and appreciations from the author throughout. The whole last story is a gratitude for libraries and English teachers and book lovers everywhere!
As with others of Levithan’s books, these are romantic stories with limited cursing, violence, drug use, or alcohol. The only thing that makes me hesitate to recommend it to middle school readers is how much of this feels like it was written by adults for adults. High school readers probably will be able to manage it, but middle schoolers might have more difficulty switching back and forth between David Levithan the author and David Levithan the memoirist. Still each story was genuinely enjoyable and I recommend this book to fans of contemporary romances, especially queer contemporary romances. In particular, I recommend it to readers looking for something easy to stop and start or at least recommend that readers enjoy each of the parts on their own without getting hung up looking for a cohesiveness from it.
-Andrea Mullarkey, Berkeley Public Library – Tarea Hall Pittman South Branch
Tags: Coming of age, Diverse, LGBTQ+, Romance, Short Stories