Rihannon (Angourie Rice) caresses A — temporarily in the form of classmate Alexander (Owen Teague) — in the film adaptation of the genderfluid romance ‘Every Day.’
Out young adult novelist David Levithan’s genderfluid fantasy ‘Every Day’ hits the big screen, and he couldn’t be more pleased
A different person, a different body, a different life each day of your life. It’s not a typical biography. Then again nothing is typical about out author David Levithan’s popular young adult novel, Every Day, which has been adapted for the screen and opened last week.
Although he didn’t write the screenplay, Levithan is no stranger to film adaptations of his books, including Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, so the genial, disheveled author has been on a whirlwind promotional tour, which ended in Dallas just before Every Day opened. And Levithan couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out.
That was far from certain. The main character in the book, called simply A, is a noncorporeal entity who leaps from body to body every day — always the same general age, but sex, race, gender orientation? Totally up for grabs. A — who does not claim any gender identity for itself — ends up falling for Rihannon, but how can they make it work?
That works fine on paper, but the movie must perpetually re-casts the actor playing A. That means refocussing the story with Rihannon at the center of the narrative. Levithan was cool with that, he just wanted to make sure that the filmmakers didn’t screw up his sequel, which comes out in October. (They didn’t, he insists.)
As a writer of YA fiction, Levithan is glad to see his story reaching to core issues of adolescence that would have been off-limits less than a generation ago.
“So many conversations came from this [book],” Levithan says. “So many high schools adopted it as their guided reading and would go around and talk about it. In 2012 talking about non-binary gender and loving someone for who they are, not what body they are in, sometimes that would be controversial.”
Some readers suggested A was in some ways a transgender character, though Levithan refines that analysis.
“A was never a trans character; A is really non-binary, or a-gendered,” which is where the name came from, Levithan explains. “A is a-gendered and a-racial. That was very conscious. Thematically, it fits. You are not born into the body that you should have, so you change your identity, defy the body and find the right identity.”
In the intervening years, however, the term gendefluid has become more mainstream, and Every Day has taken on more cultural resonance.
“I’m finding that so many more readers of any age are more familiar with those terms [a-gendered, non-binary, genderfluid] and I think that’s great that we’ve caught up to it,” Levithan says. “Over the past six years, [the novel] became so much more a part of the conversation, and made the notion that gender is a construct and you can pick whatever gender you want, you can love whomever you want.” “Love is love” takes on a deeper meaning.
Telling the story and living the story are two very different things, yet Levithan did both when first putting A’s life into words. When detailing the day-to-day adventures, it was crucial to be authentic and to mirror the truth of crossing the barrier of gender and identity. Yet he began the writing without an outline and just waited for the characters to tell him where to go.
“I wrote first thought, best thought,” he says. “I was mirroring A’s life. A does not get to choose, so the first thought I had I ran with it. Looking back, I can see different threads or connections between all of [the incarnations of A] and that I didn’t put myself in a situation I didn’t know anything about. It has to be authentic and real and doing guesswork wouldn’t do anything justice.”
While Levithan has had a heavy influence in the LGBTQ community, his characters have also reached out to other communities, reassuring that our body is often half of the battle.
“I often tell the story of a friend who has a son who is severely autistic,” says Levithan. “After reading the book she said this really resonated with her: ‘You are a person inside and your body is not allowing you to express it,’ she said. ‘That is so much what autism is and I know my son has a pure self but the translation is bad because of the body.’”
While there is sci-fi element to the film and the book, Levithan actually thinks that grounds the story.
“There is a paranormal sense in simply waking up every day in a different body,” Levithan observes.” “People are much more comfortable talking about it than if I had written a realistic novel about an a-gendered teenager. I love that something incredible contrived from science-fiction has lead to a conversation in the real world, and I think those conversations are being had.”
— Emma Bittner