Imagine waking up every day in a new body, needing to figure out who you are before your friends and family figure out that you are not who you should be. No past. No future. No continuity.
….and then one day, you meet the love of your life…and how to explain to her, a heterosexual engendered person, that not only do you love her, but you will be a different person each and every day.
“A”, the narrator, has lived zir1 life quite literally one day at a time. Zie lives 24 hours in a particular body, then (PAFF!) at midnight transfers into a new body. Male. Female. Rich. Poor. Gay. Straight. Drug addicted. Depressed. White, black, Hispanic, zie never knows until zie opens zir eyes what the new day will be like. Until now, zie’s simply accepted this is what zir life will be like…until zie meets the love of zir life, Rhiannon, when zie inhabits the body of Rhiannon’s boyfriend, Justin.
Suddenly A has a reason to desire continuity but no power to enable this…but zie tries. Whenever zie can, zie sneaks away from zir daily duties to meet with Rhiannon; if this means cutting school, or making excuses to a middle to upper class family, no problems, at least aside from the question of which gender A will be on any consecutive day. A has no problem with this, as this is how zie’s lived for all zir life. Rhiannon, not so much; as A notices, she is more affectionate when zie is a male. It helps that A’s jumps from person to person are limited to a limited geographic region, though this is not clear whether the region is limited to zir original area or to a limited range from where zir body is when the transfer takes place at midnight2.
As A and Rhiannon attempt to become closer, A realizes how much of a burden this shifting from body to body could be, something zie’s always accepted until now, and Rhiannon begins to realize how much she does not love her ostensible boyfriend, Justin. Unfortunately, things don’t work out between the two, and for more or less the reasons one might expect.
A complication is that one of the recent people whom A has inhabited remembers what has happened, or rather wonders what has happened inasmuch as he woke up, shortly after A’s transition out of his body, being awoken by police officers wondering why this stone cold sober young man has fallen asleep in his car on the verge of the highway. Nathan has gone public with this issue, with some support from a pastor who believes in demonic possession. A is simultaneously trying to reassure and put off Nathan while trying to reconcile zir relationship with Rhiannon, only to find out from the pastor that there may not only be other people like zirself but a way to stop the cycle of transferring from body to body.
And yet A chooses to remain in the cycle which zie’s known all zir life, despite the possibility that zie might choose to remain in a body which Rhiannon found acceptable.
Something to keep in mind for those considering reading this: it’s a romance novel, not science fiction. Strip away all the tropes, and you have the basic question of “Do I love the body or the soul? The physical outward presentation or the inward being?” I’m not going to pick apart the science fiction elements, though I would like to go on record as saying that they’re annoying. For example: A does not become the person but rather inhabits that stranger’s body for a day; zie can access basic information about the person, such as family members’ names and school, but not all the skills that person has, such as the ability to downhill ski or speak languages unknown to A.
From a continuity standpoint, this makes perfect sense; otherwise, how would A remember from day to day that zie loves Rhiannon? As a science fiction device, however, this inability to use all the skills the body’s owner has at his/her fingertips is problematic. One might reasonably assume that all the kids in a given geographic area will have the same basic skills but adults’ abilities diverge a great deal more. What if A wakes up in the body of an auto mechanic or an elite athlete in the middle of a competition or an interpreter for the U.N. or…Zie’d end up calling in sick to work an awful lot! Indeed, this already has posed problems–twice during the book, A transfers into someone whose home language is not English, and Levithan fudges awfully kludgily when trying to work around this.
I’ll accept that Levithan does not explain why A is the way zie is, because this is told from A’s perspective entirely. Zie doesn’t know, therefore zie cannot explain. I’ll accept that while there may be others like A, and that there is at least one person who knows how to control the process by which zie switches from body to body, A may not either understand how that’s possible or want to stop in one body…because that’s not the point of the book. I think the point of the book is: if you could, would you? If you could stop the world the way it was at any given moment, if you could control the emotions and decisions of the one true love of your life, would you? Or would that be wresting free choice from that other person? Shouldn’t you accept that you must allow that person to choose for herself?
I wouldn’t want the control; that’s not love but manipulation and control. You?
1Readers, forgive me. This is one of the few instances where I think that the constructed gender-neutral pronouns are necessary. Bear with me.
2i.e. if the person in whose body A is that day flies to Hawaii…does A then become limited to Hawaii?