Customer Reviews: Wide Awake
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on December 1, 2006
David Levithan's newest novel, "Wide Awake," is a political novel set "in the near future." Here's the set up:

"The Greater Depression happened. The events of 3/12 and 7/23 happened. The Andreas Quake and Hurricane Wanda. The President launched his War to End All Wars, which only managed to create more wars and the tragic events of 4/5. The Greater Depression deepened. Millions of people died, and there was no way to erase their faces from the more renegade open news channels, which wanted to remind everyone how bad the government had let things get. The Decents and their program of Denial Education reached their peak."

The hero and narrator of "Wide Awake" is a Jewish, gay teen named Duncan who is engaged politically for the first time in his life. After all the troubles of his childhood and the generation(s) before, it seems as if a new era is on the horizon. His presidential candidate, Abraham Stein, a Jewish gay man with a partner and children, has been elected. People are behaving differently, celebrating their ethnic, cultural, and sexual differences. And supporting them all is a sizable group of Jesus Freaks.

"For the Jesus Revolutionaries, the answer was clear: Jesus would not be out waging "preventative" wars. Jesus would not be withholding medicine from people who could not afford it. Jesus would not cast stone at people of races, sexual orientations, or genders other than his own. Jesus would not condone the failing, viperous, scandal-plagued hierarchy of some churches. Jesus would welcome everyone to his table. He would love them, and he would find peace."

Sounds like a utopian novel so far, right? But there's a hitch. A hitch in the form of Kansas. Stein's election is being contested. To the tune of 1,000 votes. (Sound familiar?) Stein calls all his supporters to Kansas and Duncan and his friends head to Topeka to support their candidate.

While "Wide Awake" is a political novel, Levithan does not abandon the everyday. Duncan struggles in his relationship with gorgeous Jimmy, teachers can be kind or belligerent, parents are sometimes more conservative than you'd like, and friends take sides in everyday breakups. But, in the end, Levithan's message is one of hope. People can be good and good people can change even the worst-case scenario into a better present and future.

"Wide Awake" is for older teens, ages 15 and up.
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on May 11, 2015
What a disappointment! I have adored everything else I've read by David Levithan but this was embarrassing. The premise seemed cool enough--a dystopian future where a Jewish gay man becomes president after our country has fallen apart and rebuilt itself. And it started off well, too! The beginning really painted a nice picture of where our narrator, Duncan, was living.

And, it fell flat.

Basically, good old President-elect Stein was having his election thrown in question because Kansas was too close to call and the governor demanded a recount. (Sound familiar?) So, all the Stein supporters flocked to Kansas to express their dissent for the governor and support for the infallible Stein. It should have been interesting, but all the characters were bland cardboard cut outs of real people. Their struggles in life were non-existent. Duncan loved his boyfriend and was worried he didn't love him back. (Don't worry-- he does. And they don't break up, falter, cheat on one another, find someone else attractive, etc. etc. He just, you know, realizes that he loves him.) These characters just bumble through the story and it's annoying. There is no conflict, save for some minor characters cheating on one another, but even still they're so one dimensional it's hard to care about their struggles. Maybe the story should have been told from their point of view? I don't know.

What really bothered me were the small, lazy choices. For instance, even though I can tell you all sorts of stupid details about Abe Stein and his VP Alice Martinez, I cannot tell you a single thing about his opponent. The opponent was so unimportant he wasn't even given a name. His VP wasn't even given a gender. That is so lazy. Okay, so he wasn't even worth a name? Not even "Bob Smith"? That was annoying, because it made the character's dialogue so unnatural. Think about it--say we're discussing the most recent presidential race. Say you supported Obama. You didn't just refer to Romney constantly as "the opponent". He wasn't some faceless creature--ESPECIALLY if you were so passionate about Obama that the hypothetical you is spending all your free time at the volunteer centers! That's what drove me crazy. No one mentioned what made Stein's opponent so bad. I mean, if you feel so passionately about wanting Stein as a president, maybe I ought to know what makes "the opponent" so bad.

Another lazy choice that bothered me was the boy named Sue. Yes. He was a boy named Sue. Who had a father ditch him as a little kid. Who chases the father down in a bar and greets him with, yes, you guessed it: "My name is Sue! How do you do?!?" No mention to Johnny Cash or anything. That character, in all seriousness was super pointless. I didn't get why he even existed.

After a bunch of boring events (like, the character waffling over whether he will go to Kansas after his parents forbade him to...then five pages later goes "oh, okay I will go" and his parents rolling over and not getting mad over his disobedience. Then...getting to Kansas and sitting around a while. Then, an almost fight that leaves everyone intact without a bruise to speak of. Then, more sitting around) a tape emerges that shows that the governor is *gasp* a purely evil man who rigged the entire system to ensure that the recount would go to the nameless opponent and somehow this just conveniently surfaces. Before anything interesting happens like, say, the election got handed to The Opponent (I'm making the story better in my retelling just now. I've decided that The Opponent is actually the dude's name, much like my toad The Impostor. When he fills out forms and his last name goes first, it's "Opponent, The." There. Fixed it.) this tape surfaces and the election goes straight to Stein and everyone lives happily ever after.

No, really. That's how it ended. With some maudlin speech from Abe Stein that is supposed to be inspirational but instead reads as some over the top garbage. That's it. That's your story. I wasted two nights of reading on this guy.

Hopefully you won't do the same.
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on November 4, 2006
Decades from today, the results of the election are out, and for the first time in the history of the United States, a gay, Jewish president, Abraham Stein, has been elected. After the Greater Depression, the War to End All Wars, the Reign of Fear, and the Jesus Revolution, the moment has arrived. Seventeen-year-old Duncan, who has spent the last few months working with his boyfriend, Jimmy, as a volunteer at the campaign headquarters, can finally stand up for the Pledge of Allegiance because at last the words "with liberty and justice for all" make sense.

But soon everything will take a 180-degree turn. The governor of Kansas, a member of the opposition party, demands a recount. Stein is determined to fight back, and asks all the people who have elected him to go to Kansas and show their support. Everyone at the election headquarters decides to board their bus that night and join this pilgrimage to Kansas.

Duncan, always insecure, always wondering about what Jimmy will think and what will happen to their relationship, knows that going to Kansas is the right thing to do. It's the once in a lifetime opportunity to help write history, and he decides to board the bus despite his parents' disapproval.

However, the trip proves to be more challenging than he thought. Duncan and Jimmy's relationship seems strained. Their friend Keisha finds out that her girlfriend, Mira, was having an affair with another girl in the group. And when the group arrives in Topeka, Kansas, they have to endure the insults and vicious attacks of the Decents (the supporters of the opposition party). They camp out in the center of town, along with more than half a million other people, with not much food, only a few accommodations, and no quick resolution in sight. Will it be worth it? Will justice prevail?

When I pick up a book by David Levithan, certain things are a given. First, I know it's going to be well written. From a little poem, to a presidential speech, to a sex scene, Levithan proves once again with WIDE AWAKE that he's a talented writer and has a great deal of imagination. This entertaining novel, full of interesting characters, is a combination of a fun parody of good versus evil, and a love story.

Reviewed by: Christian C.
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on June 29, 2012
I adore political young adult novels. I just love them. Despite many falling in the 'young adult' category not yet being able to vote, we are people and we are passionate about the world we live in. It is so great to hear voices of fictional teens who feel the same. Wide Awake is the stuff of a beautiful liberal idealistic heaven, and has to be one of the best books I've had the pleasure of reading. And he does it so great, too, with his typical mindblowing writing combining with perfection of a plot. He could have easily used the political victory as the ending, but instead took the hard and ultimately more rewarding road of tackling the end at the beginning. While some of the made up historical events seem a little hokey, once they're explained, it's totally believable, albeit idealistic. And while this may be deemed a 'political YA', more than anything this novel is about finding who you are and reconciling your identity with society's dissenting opinions on who you "should" be, whether dictated through social, cultural, or religious "rules". The "Jesus Revolution" mentioned in this book is a beautiful concept and I could only dream of such a thing happening in my lifetime, the idea of religion going back to its roots of love and kindness for all. Stein is kind of a simple character, and elements of the story seem simple, but there are so many amazing qualities found in this book. Religion could easily have been written off as a force of evil and hate. Instead, Levithan takes the effort to imagine people complexly and recognize that religion itself is not inherently good or bad, but a force for potential action in either direction, often both directions, in complicated, tangled up ways. This book is political, but it is about so much more than that. The personal doesn't automatically have to be political, but man, can the political be personal.

Rating: 5/5
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on March 24, 2012
I love Levithan, I really really do. I loved this book, I swear I did, but I had such a hard time reading it. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why, then today when I finished it I realized why. This book is's happening right now. Politicians are trying to scare us, create wars, have a crap economy, they are trying to control our constitutionally given freedoms. They are trying to get ignore that this country is a government Of the people FOR the people and BY the people. Which means...well LISTEN TO THE DAMN PEOPLE.

This book made me think of the Gore Bush elections and the recount, and Florida and just...well ugh. The sad part is this book is reality.

It is a story of a gay Jewish president...well maybe president. The fight to get to office, the fight of the people of the country backing him. The story revolves around Duncan and Jimmy, their relationship and love, and their desire for Stein to be president. It is wonderfully written, it is beautiful. It scares the crap out of me though. I can see the events in the book happening around me, and continuing to the future to "protect morals." Taking away the voice of well, everyone who doesn't fit the heterosexual, white, Christian mold.

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on September 7, 2013
Reading the synopsis of Wide Awake, I found it difficult to see how David Levithan could pack religion, politics and sexuality into a book that's just over 200 pages long and make it meaningful. It's a minefield of hot topics that could have been awkward, preachy or uncomfortably controversial.

But in true David Levithan style, he takes a story and completely ensnared me in the life of Duncan, his boyfriend Jimmy, his friends and a cast of characters caught up in the election of the first gay Jewish president of the United States. Jimmy's world is similar to ours now, but global recession, war and terrorism have greatly changed the political and religious outlook of America and the rest of the world.

Duncan is a sweet, rather naive boy who seems to believe that what is right will always win - and it's an endearing quality rather than a frustrating one, as the story of his journey in realising that the world can be a frightening and pretty unfriendly place when you are different. In his home town, with his family and friends, his religion, sexuality and political beliefs are fairly widely accepted, with a few exceptions among his peers and with one particularly nasty teacher.

Jimmy is rather more dark and negative, but with Duncan as his partner they balance each other perfectly. There's a fantastic supporting cast of teen and adult characters that make for a memorable group of people who are simply standing up for what they believe in, without any doubts that their cause will fail.

I love that David Levithan took a world that could have been dark and disturbing and made it into an exciting, interesting take on what change could really mean. Although there are still divisions between religious and political beliefs, there are also groups that have changed how they interact with each other to make a more varied, joined country. As an imagining, this world felt like a real possibility.

I enjoyed Wide Awake far more than I thought I would given the synopsis, and I loved returning to David Levithan's imagination.
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on May 17, 2008
It's an interesting universe Levithan creates in WIDE AWAKE. So far, we've had the contested election -- wait, make that TWO contested elections. I wonder how long it's going to be before a real Greater Depression happens, or something like the Prada Riots.

I read this book near the end of the 2008 primaries, and it made clear to me one thing. Smart, ethical Democrats don't run for office. They write books, and do other things that don't get them anywhere near the stink of politics. If only someone as decent and imaginative and grounded in what it means to be human as David Levitan would run for political office.

I had so many questions reading two of Levitan's books. Can the world Levitan gives us in this book (and in BOY MEETS BOY) really exist? Can it exist in my lifetime? Can it exist without someone as caring as Levithan going into politics? Should we have converged on Florida in 2000?

I'm so sick of what the Democrats offer, which is nothing more than being Not Republican. Voting in the primary was depressing. I wouldn't have bothered, except my friend Eric thought it was SO IMPORTANT to put Obama in the election. But both he and Hilary leave me cold.

I wish I could live in Levitan Land instead of the USA as it exists today.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart, David Levithan, for the world(s) you've given us. I hope you get to be our first Gay Jewish President.
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on October 23, 2013
For the first time, a Jewish and openly gay man is elected as president of the USA. That shouldn't mean anything, should it? But it does. In the world we live in, it seems impossible.

Mr. Levithan makes it possible. He shows us, through Duncan's eyes, a jewish openly gay boy himself, a moment in the not so distant future, when Abraham Stein is elected President of the United States. When the governor of Kansas questions the election and calls for a recount, Stein's voters gather up in Topeka to show support and take a stand.

Full review at: [...]
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on November 20, 2010
This is the fourth Levithan book I've read, and I'd say it's my third favorite. That said, one should take into account how much I adore the two books above it on my favorites list. Boy Meets Boy was amazing on a million different levels, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson... *happy sigh.*

I found this an absolutely fascinating read considering it was written in 2006 about a future presidential campaign based on hope and community, and then what happened in the actual 2008 election, and the two years which have followed. I feel the best books make you stop and think, and this book definitely did that for me. Also, I loved Stein's speeches. Just fantastic.

I wasn't really into the love story in this book, but I think that was less where the focus was anyways, and it was meant more metaphorically, so I won't hold my disappointment against this book. (I'll just go back and read Boy Meets Boy.)
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on March 5, 2013
It's a quick and good read. I was introduced to Mr. Levithan by Ellen Hopkins. I am a HUGE fan of her work and she recommended that I try his books. I have since read several. This was the latest one I read. It was slow moving at first, but picked up and had the tidy happy ending. It wasn't my favorite by any means, but it is a quick read. It also opens your eyes to political insides that you might not normally see.
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