Love Is The Higher Law by David Levithan 2009
RandomHouse/Alfred P. Knopf
IQ "There's the drown of things and the swim of things, I guess. I've been going back and forth, back and forth. I feel the weight of it. And this bewilderment-how can something that doesn't have a form, doesn't have a definition, doesn't have words-how can it have such weight? And yet, there's the need to swim.
"Life goes on," I [Jasper] offered
"Yeah, but you see, Life goes on is a redundancy. Life is defined by its going on." Claire pg. 102
Love Is The Higher Law is about the days immediately after 9/11 and of course, love. When two planes crash into the World Trade Center, Claire is in school, Peter is waiting for Tower Records to open and Jasper is asleep. They don't really know each other well, they all meet briefly at a party, and Peter and Jasper go on a date (late on 9/11). Claire knows Peter, but only vaguely knows Jasper. In the aftermath of 9/11 they get to know each other better as the devastation and loss of NYC bring them together. In reviewing this book I will also talk about my 9/11 experiences and what I remember later on.
The character of Claire keeps me from giving this book a perfect rating. Claire comes off as way too preachy, as only a vehicle for the author to preach his message of love, kindness, volunteering and being anti-war. These are all noble things, but I felt that the author should have showed us Claire's beliefs and not had her preach to anyone who would listen. I know that one character shouldn't ruin a book, and she didn't ruin it. But her chapters were often the longest, and while they were deep, they were my least favorite. Also the lack of parents seemed a bit unbelievable to me. I think that a tragic event such as 9/11 would bring families together or at least have kids thinking about their parents. Jasper's parents have a presence in the book and Claire's mother is occasionally mentioned (I don't think anything was said about her father) and Peter's parents are mentioned in passing. I wanted to see how 9/11 affected family relationships as well. The two other main characters were awesome. Jasper keeps people at a distance with his sarcasm and random comments. He can be rude but is so lovable. He's also gay. And Korean. I love him. He was never once a stereotype and he had me laughing at all the ignorant or silly comments he has had to face as a gay Korean. He shrugs them off and pokes fun at them. Peter was a great character, although I didn't get as much of a feel for his character either. He loved music and was gay, but other than that, I don't know much more about him. I enjoyed reading about him because he was so awkward and sweet, he was obsessed with "love signals" which could be quite funny. The story is told in alternating POVS but largely focuses on Jasper and Claire's thoughts (Claire has longer chapters but Jasper has more chapters).
The most compelling part of this book was the description of 9/11 and what happened afterward. What did it look like, how did people react? The author states in his note that he wrote the book because readers "will have less and less firsthand experience of what it was like to be in New York in those hours and days and months." (pg. 165) Basically, he wrote the novel for me and others like me. I was in 2nd grade when 9/11 occurred, about to turn eight. I don't remember being told about 9/11, I do remember being annoyed (*wince*) at all the television coverage that "planes crashing into buildings" was getting, even the kids channels were constantly being interrupted (from what I remember). That's all I remember. I don't know if my school even announced that it happened, I do remember people being afraid that the Sears Tower (a lot closer to home for me) would be next and there was a bit of paranoia and hysteria on the news and in the community. Reading Love Is The Higher Law was an emotional read for me because it so vividly described what happened, the horror and disbelief people felt, the memorials that went up and the most importantly, the simple goodness that people showed. "This, I think, is how people survive: Even when horrible things have been done to us, we can still find gratitude in one another." (pg.76). The seemingly small actions that people took to help one another, business owners giving things away for free that people needed, people helping each other, parents hugging their kids and remembering to say "I love you". It blew me away because this experience was so foreign to me. I got choked up reading about the second plane crashing into the towers, I've seen the pictures, but reading about it first-hand (the author says that many of the thoughts and descriptions of this book are from what he remembers since he was about 20 blocks away) left a big impact (but the pictures are very powerful too).
Something that absolutely shocked me was that gay men can't give blood if they've had sex but straight people who have had sex can give blood My mouth literally dropped open. I' m a huge supporter of giving blood and I encourage everyone to do it. Blood is always needed and to restrict a growing part of the population from helping out in such an easy and affordable (it's free!) way, is utterly ridiculous. But then I looked it up and LifeSource at least, has no restrictions (according to its website) about gay people giving blood. I could be wrong, maybe the website wouldn't say that so blatantly. If you know otherwise or if the rules have changed about this since 2001, please let me know in the comments. This novel is an emotional read, but it has tender and light-hearted moments. Love Is The Higher Law is needed for all the readers like me who do not remember 9/11 or who are not even born yet. It's not an enjoyable read, but 9/11 was the defining moment of the early 21st century (still is) and it's important that people understand why it had such an impact and what New York City went through. I think that all people can benefit from this final lesson, expressed by Peter, "Maybe in the end that's all we need. Talking and listening." (pg. 158) Love, listening and talking, sounds good to me.
Disclosure: From the library
PS Sorry for such a ridiculously long review and the glimpse at my own personal experience, do people like reading about personal experiences in reviews? (Personally I do, but if people don't want to hear them, I won't share them).