Answers in the pages by David Levithan
A longstanding habit of mine, is to read the author’s acknowledgements and any notes before I start a new book. Reading these in Levithan’s Answers in the Pages, set the context for this highly engaging upper primary story, giving a very brief, but personal account of the queer novels, authors and supporters who have preceded and encouraged him.
Answers is a deceptively simple story in three strands that sympathetically teases out the issues of book banning, specifically ‘gay’ books, standing up for what you believe, working out what this actually is, and dealing constructively with conflict and differing opinions, particularly those of people who love and care for you.
Donovan’s fifth-grade teacher has assigned a class book that soon causes division across the small town, as parents debate whether the two characters are gay, and whether the book is therefore suitable reading for their children.
Rick and Oliver, ‘The Adventurers’, the two main characters in this book-within-a book, plunge into unbelievably extreme exploits, including wrestling alligators, escaping wild bears and defeating an evil mastermind.
In seemingly unrelated chapters, Roberto and Gideon become partners in a book project, and over time realise they want to be much more to each other.
It might take a while to get into the rhythm of switching between stories in each chapter, and personally, I found the Adventurers story too over-the-top to be enjoyable, but younger readers would probably enjoy the absurdity of it.
However, a few cleverly dropped clues hint at the final twist that ties together the three stories in a heart-warming finale, and demonstrates Levithan’s mastery.
Levithan’s characters are multifaceted and well-drawn, and he exposes their flaws and opinions without judgement or being heavy handed, even though he is addressing issues which would be real and relevant to many readers, like homophobia and parents who act inappropriately, but from a place of love and concern.
It is refreshing to have such a sweet, fun story incorporate contemporary issues, and add to the list of books that queer young readers can find themselves in/identify with. Teacher's notes are available.
Themes: Book banning, Coming out.