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19 Love Songs

Book review by
Barbara Schultz, Common Sense Media
19 Love Songs Book Poster Image
Emotional collection explores love from all angles.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will get an inside view of the first Women's March in Atlanta, Georgia, and a high school Quiz Bowl competition, as well as the complexities of teen emotions.

Positive Messages

Levithan's latest book assures LGTBQ teens that they're not alone. The author also sends a powerful message about the importance of language and those who share it with youngsters: teachers, librarians, booksellers, and other champions of the written word.

Positive Role Models & Representations

In this collection of short stories, most of the protagonists are gay teenagers navigating the emotional minefield of first love, desire, and friendships. They don't all get everything right every time, but teens will find inspiration in these relatable characters' stories of coming out, first love, and connecting with their peers. In addition, some of Levithan's stories are at least semi-autobiographical, so the author serves as a role model, too.

Violence

Some characters lash out verbally, but there's no physical violence.

Sex

Several of these stories portray teens experiencing strong feelings of romantic love and desire. The author's descriptions are more sensual and passionate than graphic, but he does tell us that clothes come off, and in one piece, friends hear another teen moaning during a sexual encounter with a girl wearing only a bra on top. There's also a particularly sexy story within the story, where a character taking a creative writing class writes about an imagined physical relationship between two male characters on the TV show L.A. Law.

Language

Profanity isn't frequent in the book overall, but in a few stories teens use it frequently -- "s--t," "f--k," "ass" (and their variations), and "goddamn."

Consumerism

Brands mentioned include Burger King, FedEx, Target, iTunes, Diet Coke, Coca-Cola World, and StubHub. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

In one story, a character talks about drinking from the mini-bar in a hotel, but we never see him drink and the implication is that he resists the temptation. Teens do sip beer at a party in another story.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that David Levithan's19 Love Songs incudes short stories and poems, most of which have appeared in previous anthologies or as part of Levithan's earlier books. Many of the pieces portray LGBTQ characters navigating strong feelings of attraction, love, and desire. Like many of Levithan's novels (Every Day, Two Boys Kissing) his collection sends teen readers a powerful message that they are not alone in their feelings and experiences. The characters' sexual and/or gender identifies are important but not unique; love is love, in other words. In some stories, teens use profanity ("f--k," "s--t," "ass," and their variations), and some drink beer in one story. Sexual activity between teens and young adults (both same- and opposite-sex) is described sensuously and passionately -- teens disrobe, kiss, and touch in a sexual way, but nothing is described graphically. There's deep intimacy in this book, but it is more emotional than physical.

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What's the story?

In 19 LOVE SONGS, young-adult author David Levithan collects short stories and poetry that portray the relatable feelings and experiences of teens in love. The protagonists of most of the stories are LGBTQ youngsters, who navigate first feelings of attraction, love, and desire. For example, the first story relates the frustration and confusion of a Quiz Bowl team alternate dealing with unrequited love and feelings of not belonging. In another piece, a transgender football player connects powerfully with a cheerleader. Levithan also looks at the early days of his parents' love story, and the exuberant love between a mother and son on Valentine's Day. Throughout the book, he explores the universality and vulnerability of love from all angles.

Is it any good?

As in his beautiful novels, David Levithan offfers wonderfully relatable, sensitive characters in this emotional story and poety collection. At the same time, 19 Love Songs is more generally like Levithan's valentine to the language of love. Through every plot twist and every nuance of feeling, the author shares his appreciation for all the tenderness between people, and the ways we use language to connect. Just one example of this is "Track Fourteen: The Vulnerable Hours," in which Levithan imagines a magical time when every time one person asked another, "What's up?" Instead of saying "Not much," person B would answer truthfully about important events and feelings in his or her life. In so many sweet ways, Levithan invites his readers to imagine what life would be like if people expressed their emotions, if we could be more real with those we love. These are ideas worth exploring, and in Levithan's world, all are welcome to do so.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the romantic feelings in 19 Love Songs. Do the characters seem like real teens you might know? Do you relate to any of the characters? 

  • Why are stories of first love so popular? What can you learn from what characters go through in romantic books and movies?

  • Why do you think the author calls these stories "Songs" and "Tracks"?

Book details

Themes & Topics

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For kids who love love stories and LGBTQ tales

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