Review of Wide Awake, by David Levithan

Wide Awake

by David Levithan

Alfred A. Knopf, 2006. 221 pages.
Review written May 9, 2024, from a library book.

Notice the copyright date on this book of 2006. I checked out this book because I got to hear an author talk by David Levithan with him talking about his new book, Wide Awake Now. He described it as an update of this one — which he’d written in 2004, when George W. Bush defeated John Kerry for a second term.

This book features Duncan, a gay high school student who’s not old enough to vote, but involved in volunteering for a presidential candidate in a near future election. As the book opens, this candidate has just been elected as the first gay Jewish president of the United States. But there’s a problem. Though he won the popular vote, he only won the electoral college vote by one state, and the governor of Kansas has announced that he’s doing a recount. As the recount happens, he’s finding reasons to throw out votes. President-Elect Stein calls on his followers to come to Kansas in protest, and this book is about that road trip. Duncan’s boyfriend is on the trip, as are other campaign volunteers they’re already friends with, and more people they meet along the way. We get lots of Stein speeches about building community and caring for others and more great things.

Something I loved about the book was that a big part of Stein’s support came from people who were part of “the Jesus Revolution” – a group all about really living Jesus’s teachings of love and caring for the poor. How I wish he’d gotten that part of the future right! The opposition party call themselves the “Decents” and are against gay marriage and saying many of the same things Christians are known for saying today (sadly), but I was pleased to see at least one large group of Christians in this imagined future were firmly about actually following Jesus’s teachings.

Some omissions were interesting. Although he said these teens had been born “decades” after 9/11, there had never been a Black president, and gay marriage was not legal. That this wasn’t even imagined happening in 2006 was interesting to me.

I was actually a little disturbed by a presidential candidate on the “good” side calling for his followers to protest about election results. To be fair, he won the popular vote and had already been declared the winner of the election. They were protesting the recount that the Kansas governor was trying to manipulate. Protesting that the results must stand. There was also no violence, and they didn’t break into any government building or threaten any government officials. So it wasn’t really obstruction of an official proceeding.

But speaking after January 6th, which forever changed my perspective, I don’t like the idea at all of determining official election results because of a protest. Because as we all know, no matter what the outcome — even losing by six states instead of one — any candidate can work their followers into a frenzy demanding that results be changed. And that’s just not how I want these things to be determined. By all means, put scrutiny on anything the governor in question may have done to change the results, but ultimately, I really do think we need to be able to trust the courts to determine legality and illegality.

All that said, it was a fascinating look at someone twenty years ago projecting what politics might be like around this time. Of course, someone like Trump wasn’t imagined at all. It’s also a good story – with interactions between Duncan and his boyfriend and parents and friends and teachers. And does paint a picture of a bright future. I’m definitely going to read the more recently written follow-up and hope the author has not gotten more cynical.

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Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but the views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

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