On the surface, the premise of David Levithan’s One Day sounds like it’s borrowed from one of my favorite TV shows, Quantum Leap.
Every morning, A wakes up inside a different body of someone close to A’s age. For A, this is a normal thing that has been happening since he/she was born. While A can access the memories of the boy or girl that A’s leapt into that day, it’s rare that A will make a significant connection or plan for the future beyond the 24 hour period inhabiting another person’s life. That is, until the day, that A leaps into the body of Justin and meets Rhiannon. A falls in love with Rhiannon and becomes obsessed with finding a way to maintain the connection to her and make her aware of his/her existence and fate.
One issue facing A is that while he/she will leap into someone in the same geographic region, it could be someone five minutes or five hours away. Also, A has to consider the impact that contacting and finding Rhiannon each day will have on the life on the person being inhabited for that day.
On the surface, it’s an interesting premise and Levithan sells it well for the first third of the book. The loneliness that A feels as he/she leaps about from body to body comes across well on the page.
It’s just too bad that the rest of the book doesn’t really live up to the potential of the premise — or Mr. Levithan’s own beating the reader with a two by four to make certain moral points. Rhiannon has little issue with A being inside a male body, but when A presents as a female or a less than attractive guy, Rhiannon ends up coming across as shallow for not seeing beyond the physical and in to the true person inside. It’s a nice lesson, but while A has had most of his/her life to get used to this dilemma, Rhiannon is still adjusting to the idea and the sheer number of things that this relationship would have to overcome in order to work.
There’s also a subplot with one of the bodies that A uses and the inhabitant facing consequences because of it. The returned user believes he has been possessed by the devil and begins trying to tell the story in order to see if others have experienced something similar. Levithan goes extremely heavy-handed with the morality in this one, making the character seem closed-minded and ignorant for not being willing to just go with the flow on the situation. The portrayal of the religious group is none too flattering either and it ends up weakening the novel as a whole.
In the end, it all takes a fascinating premise and lets it down by a desire to pursue a particular political agenda. I can see what Levithan is trying to say here, but in the end it comes across just as closed-minded and judgmental as those he’s trying to say are closed-minded and judgmental.