Monday, May 17, 2010

Male Monday: Love is the Higher Law

Love Is The Higher Law by David Levithan 2009
RandomHouse/Alfred P. Knopf

Rating: 4.5/5

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).


  1. I love David Levithan. I need to put this book on my ever increasing reading list.

    Personally, I like that you put your own personal experience in the story. Everyone's experiences on 9/11 are so different. I really want to read this so, I'll hold off on posting my own 9/11 experience until I get my own copy. I enjoy long reviews that include the reviewer's own experiences. I feel like that's what an author would want the reader to do

    On an unrelated note: I just finished Shine, Coconut Moon. Thank you for the recommendation.

  2. I kind of want to re-read this because of you.

    I was about the age of the characters in this book during 9/11. It happened my Freshman year of high school. I was in music class. I remember my teacher getting a call and immediately turning on the TV. We just sat in horror. All we did all day was watch the news. It was insane. I'm from upstate NY, a lot of my friends had family in the city, so they were all frantically calling.

    Anyways, your review is wonderful and touching. It makes me feel like the book would have been a better read for me, had I not read it during the fall ReadAThon.

  3. I requested my library to get this a long time ago but of course they have a very limited budget. I'm going to have to break down and buy it! :--)

    Re the blood donation thing, currently Senator John Kerry Kerry and 17 other senators (all but one democrats) have asked the FDA to lift the ban on gay men donating blood. The ban was put in place in 1983, at the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis and before modern screening and advanced testing methods for HIV were developed.

    I suspect the reason the law is still in place has a lot to do with bureaucratic inertia. - the same reason Minerals and Mining regulations do not apply to deep water drilling - they never got past the "needs more study" phase. When it comes to allocating resources in a budget, bureaucracies tend to protect ongoing programs. It takes more than outside change to effect a shake-up. This is not to deny that there might be prejudice in operation for blood donation, or lobbying in operation for minerals management, but it is more true that bureaucracies are mighty behemoths, and public workers want to protect their jobs and their turf.

  4. I'm pretty sure that in the UK its anyone who has had unprotected a s (at work so can't use the words) who can't give blood and any man who has had protected or unprotected a s. Which is totally crazy! There are so many regulations on who can give blood that would be swept aside by consensual HIV tests for blood donors, but I expect its the expense that stops that or any other measure being put in place.

  5. I really enjoyed reading this review, and I liked the element of personal experience. I think 9/11 is the kind of event that people naturally want to share their experiences of. I think the book itself sounds pretty fascinating and I'll look out for it.

    I'm pretty sure that in the UK you also can't give blood if you're a woman who has had sex with a man who has had sex with a man.

  6. I liked the way you included your perspective in the review -- well done.

  7. @Najela-Many bloggers love David Levithan, this was my first time reading one of his books. I agree, I enjoy reaiding about the reviewer's experiences and seeing dialogue/discussions start in reviews because usually that is what the author wants.
    I commented on your review, thanks for letting me know :)

    @April- I'm not sure I would re-read this one because I don't want to re-live 9/11 even if I don't really remember it. But at the same time, I do want to re-read it because it shows how the very best from people emerges in the very worst of situations. You should read it and really savor it though.
    I'm glad you didn't have family affected by 9/11 and I hope everything worked out ok for your friends. Was upstate New York affectted by it more than other ttates (obviosuly we are all living with the security drama).

    @rhapsody-So it's still illegal? That makes me mad! I honestly feel like writing a letter to Congress, giving blood is so easy and it makes people feel better and it's helpful so everyone should be able to do it. Agreed, the government is usually too busy with the economy and military matters, but I'm writing a letter and I may need to dedicate a post to this or something.

    @Jodie-Interesting that you can't type the word at work! you get asked about unprotected s (now you've got me doing it! haha) and that makes sense if you can't give blood becuase of it, if you've never been tasted. But if you're gay and have protected sex, then you should be able to give blood (one day this blog is going to get me in trouble if I every want to be a politican, lol)

    @Lauren-I know that when you fill out the questionnarie in the U.S., you are asked if you (a woman) ever had sex with a man whose had sex with a man, but Ive never said yes to this question so I don't know what the consequences are (or if there's any). 9/11 is definitely a "where were you when" sort of event, the book is a fascinating read and it's a rairty I think because it deals with immeditely after 9/11, whereas other novels I've read take place some years later.

    @Olugbemisola-Thank you :D

  8. Reading a book is a personal experience. It resonates with your heart, which is ultimately the goal of the writer. Sharing your personal experience in the review, especially the way you did, and because it was so relevant, actually helped shed a new light on the story told, one complementing the author's narrative.

  9. This book really, really touched me and honestly, I loved it. I was about the age of these characters at the time of 9/11 (I was a senior in high school) and the memories of that day, and the days and weeks after, are still so vivid for me. So the book just brought those feelings back to life. Also I did enjoy the characters quite a bit, and Claire didn't bug me at all (though I see your point with her). Overall this was a fantastic read for me and I'm glad you enjoyed it too. :)

  10. This book isn't my favorite by Levithan--that would be the delightful Boy Meets Boy--but I also found it very touching. Thank you for tying your personal experiences into your review! I know Levithan has mentioned that he wanted to reach out to teens who were very young children when 9/11 happened through this story and your review is the first I've read that takes on the book from a teenage perspective. :)


I love to hear from you!! Thank you for sharing :) And don't be Anon, I try to always reply back and I like to know who I'm replying to ;)