How They Met and Other Stories
It began in a high school physics class. Bored and in search of distraction, David Levithan combed his physics textbook for romantic notions. He assembled them in a story called “A Romantic Inclination,” which he gave to his friends for Valentine’s Day. They liked it so much that each year he wrote them another story. This tradition led to his first novel and ultimately to HOW THEY MET AND OTHER STORIES, a collection of stories about love.
Best known for his positive, normalizing portrayals of teen relationships --- regardless of sexual orientation --- Levithan's stories focus on those longings that are the common denominators for the human heart. HOW THEY MET features matchmakers, chance encounters and broken hearts, in addition to the different kinds of love that exist between family and friends.
The collection begins with “Starbucks Boy,” a hilarious story about the all-too-common experience of crushing on the neighborhood barista. Readers will no doubt identify with the self-aware tone of Levithan's narrator:
"Now, it has to be one of Starbucks’s more brilliant marketing strategies to maintain at least one completely dreamy guy behind the counter at any given shift. This guy is invariably known as Starbucks Boy to the hundreds of regular customers who have a crush on him, and the glory of it is that he always seems just accessible enough to be within reach, but never accessible enough to actually touch.... He is, unlike most beautiful people you've ever encountered, friendly --- and you honestly believe it's not because that's a part of his job....[you] think that the way he says ‘good morning’ or 'have a good one' or 'here you go' to you is a little different than the way he says it to anyone else. Or at least that's the hope."
HOW THEY MET is built upon moments as identifiable as crushes across the counter. Levithan has never needed earth-shattering events or severe trauma to get across the drama of ordinary life. But the best stories in this collection move beyond the happily-ever-after moments of cute introductions and push into the hungry places that make us long to belong.
Behind many of the stories here is an awareness that we are defined by who and how we love. Nowhere is this made so clear as in “Miss Lucy Had a Steamboat,” in which the narrator defends her choice to remain alone:
“When I realized I was into girls, it was scary to let go of all the things I was supposed to be and all the things I was supposed to want. It's like you're a character in this book that everyone around you is writing, and suddenly you have to say, I'm sorry, but this role isn't right for me. And you have to start writing your own life and doing your own thing. That was hard enough. But that was nothing --- nothing, I tell you --- compared to the idea that I could let go of the desire to have a girlfriend....Talk about something that had been ingrained. I wasn't letting go of love or sex or the idea of companionship. I was just rejecting the package in which it had been sold to me. I was going to say it was okay to be alone, when it felt like everyone in the world was saying that it wasn't okay, that I had to always want someone else, that the desire had to fuel me.”
Who and how we love also extends to our family narratives. My favorite story in the collection, “The Princes,” isn't just about a dancer choosing between two possible suitors. It's a family romance that explores the way families define themselves and express their love for one another. The most touching moment in the story is not when Jon discovers the identity of his true prince; it's when Jon's brother makes a stand about including Jon's boyfriend at his Bar Mitzvah. Levithan includes his own family romance in the book with stories about how his grandparents met. "I am here because of love," he writes, which makes us hope we can all claim the same.
David Levithan is a true believer when it comes to love. The stories in HOW WE MET are a testament to his faith that we are all created by love, sustained by love, and saved by love. Even those stories with less than happy endings suggest that even our uncomfortable or difficult relationships --- whether it is having one's partner leave for college or taking the wrong girl to the prom --- are steps along the way to being more capable of giving and receiving love.
Reviewed by Sarah A. Wood on October 18, 2011