Every Day: Restructuring (And Reimposing) the Gender Binary

The struggle for identity is difficult enough to master for the typical teenager occupying a single body—but for “A,” who inhabits a different body every day, undermining any possibility of lasting attachment, identity seems altogether more impossible. That is the novel, at its core: what is identity when all of the visible, biological, and socially constructed factors are stripped away? What does it mean to be a person outside of the casing?

The very prospect of the novel is both fascinating and atypical, and the questions necessarily raised by its concept are important ones. Even at a syntactical level, it proves a difficult text to resist: Levithan sculpts his narrative with crisp, concise language—and in the confines of his succinctness, there are many moments of overwhelming beauty. It is not a difficult read, but there is a quiet kind of poetry that occurs in moments like the conversation in the darkness between twin brothers, one occupied by A, when “the way words take a different shape in the air when there’s no light in the room” (117-118). Levithan is able to offer recognizable truths in a way not beholden to the cliché, but in a way that is both familiar and revelatory.

A has lived to the age of sixteen in 5,994 different bodies—and until A wakes up one day in the body of a boy named Justin dating a girl named Rhiannon, there is no real consideration given toward the hope of a “normal,” single-bodied life. But A’s attachment to Rhiannon comes immediately and absolutely, and in the breathlessness that follows all A comes to want is a life that lasts more than twenty-four hours.

What is most captivating about this novel is indeed A’s relationship to identity; not only does A not consider attraction to be gender-specific, but gender itself A equates more with clothing than static reality: “There were days I felt like a girl and days I felt like a boy, and those days wouldn’t always correspond with the body was in” (254). A’s gender is dynamic, fluctuating, capable of redefinition—and that is exactly the point. If people were not held to a particular social construction, Levithan seems to reason that this is the fluidity one might expect, a kind of fluidity beyond bodily constraints, independent of what might be considered biology.

Yet amidst all the fascinating implications surrounding identity, one of the most frustrating constructions is A’s involvement with Rhiannon. A awakens in her boyfriend’s body, is able to bear witness to her “true self,” and immediately intends to rescue her from said boyfriend, who neither treats her well nor could ever possibly understand her the way A does. It functions very much in the vein of he Nice Guy trope; A’s entitlement toward her and her affection is almost jarring. Because A is a Nice Guy, and understands her, and is able to see her through the eyes of her boyfriend without inhabiting his apathy, A should have her, and she should want A—perhaps to the exclusion of all else. For being a better person than her boyfriend, A expects everything. And though A is meant to inhabit a space without and inclusive of gendered, this positioning is very much gendered.

Perhaps this would be less frustrating if the narrative did not seem to agree with A’s stance as hero. And yet, though Rhiannon’s relationship with Justin is described as having a multitude of attachments, it is apparent that Justin’s only real redeeming factor is his refusal to be seduced by A in the body of beautiful Ashley Ashton, with Rhiannon feet away. But whether involved with Justin or A, Rhiannon must constantly define herself in terms of the people around her, all demanding pieces of her. It is obvious that they have a connection—begun with A’s existence in Justin’s body, of course, but a connection nevertheless—but perhaps this is why I found it so startling when she proclaimed A was the “person [she] love[d] the most in the entire world” (259). In the entire world? Above her family, and her friends, amidst the protests that hardly knows A at all? More than anything else, that functioned as a bucket of ice water and stole me out of the world entirely.  

Perhaps one problem was that Rhiannon never felt fully realized; her character’s rendering made at the behest of her relationships always seemed to cast those characters in the highest resolution. Even in the moments her friendship with her actual friends occurs to A, there is no real focus on an outside narrative. The implication of one is there, an implied interiority that exists beyond him, inaccessible both to A and to the reader, but even so she has verbally placed her love for A as expanding beyond her attachment to anyone else.

The conclusion of the novel felt, in part, necessary—but in the same way that Rhiannon’s character exists primarily with respect to the other characters, so again this is reconfirmed by the climax itself, which casts her once more as the damsel, rendered almost painfully without agency. (The brief, shining exception to her frequent one dimensionality as a character is the point at which she explains her vegetarianism, which rings both with accuracy and a deeper, albeit fleeting connection to the world around her, an engagement to which the reader is never allowed to bear witness.) The conclusion makes sense, in part, for A’s own development as a dynamic character, but it seems extraordinarily limiting to Rhiannon’s. Again.

Indeed, the world crafted is a remarkable, intriguing one; it makes the opening page near-irresistible, demands immediate questions. For all the boundaries it sets, however, those in search of the why answers, and of the how answers, will find little satisfaction within. But perhaps that is because the plot’s framework is not the point at all; the point is the implications of the framework, and the ambiguity of its very nature. A does not know the whys in the same way that no one else does; we are here, and we must push against our own boundaries to test them. We do not have our reasons, either.

I cannot deny the novel held my interest and I find that, in broad strokes, I quite enjoyed it. But I cannot dismiss the narrative’s perpetual upholding of A’s actions toward Rhiannon as true love—or, in the conclusion, even helpful and selfless—which became, more than ever, difficult to stomach.

            Every Day raises many of the right questions, but it makes many of the wrong sacrifices.

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