27 May 2013

Book Review: The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

Title: The Lover's Dictionary
Author(s): David Levithan
Genre(s): Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Publisher/Date: Farrar, Straus and Giroux / January 4, 2011
Series: Stand Alone
Challenge(s): 2013 Catch Up Reading Challenge

"ineffable, adj. These words will ultimately end up being the barest of reflections, devoid of the sensations words cannot convey. Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough."
Case Study
basis, n. There has to be a moment at the beginning when you wonder whether you’re in love with the person or in love with the feeling of love itself.

If the moment doesn’t pass, that’s it—you’re done. And if the moment
pass, it never goes that far. It stands in the distance, ready for whenever you want it back. Sometimes it’s even there when you thought you were searching for something else, like an escape route, or your lover’s face.

How does one talk about love? Do we even have the right words to describe something that can be both utterly mundane and completely transcendent, pulling us out of our everyday lives and making us feel a part of something greater than ourselves? Taking a unique approach to this problem, the nameless narrator of David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary has constructed the story of his relationship as a dictionary. Through these short entries, he provides an intimate window into the great events and quotidian trifles of being within a couple, giving us an indelible and deeply moving portrait of love in our time. (synopsis from Goodreads)

The Game's Afoot
By now I've probably made it pretty clear that I'm not the biggest fan of swoony stuff. So that being said, why on Earth would I decide to read a book called The Lover's Dictionary? Well, I'll tell you why. Because it was written by this man.

David Levithan.

Did you read Every Day, if so, there should be no doubt in your mind that if anyone on this planet knows how to do the love stuff right, it's him. Yeah. He can convert even a non-lover like myself, that's how talented he is. And after devouring Every Day and Will Grayson, Will Grayson, Levithan instantly catapaulted himself to the top of my auto-buy list. So again, why The Lover's Dictionary? Well, I was fortunate enough to hear him speak about how he came up with the idea for the book at last year's National Bookfest. A love story told solely via dictionary entries?! As a Valentine's Day present for friends?!

My mind = BLOWN. The concept was so unique that I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. And I did. And I read the entire thing in a single sitting. On my lunch hour. At work. That's how quick, easy and engaging this book is. I'm kinda kicking myself for waiting so long to read it. So yeah, now I guess I'm a lover of love. But shh, don't tell anyone. Thanks for that, David.

The Lover's Dictionary is not only unique in how it tells the story but also because we never really get to know the subjects of whom it's about. I mean, we get to see some of the most personal and intimate segments of their relationship, but there are no names or descriptions of the couple to be found. At first, this was kind of distracting because I spent so much time trying to put faces to these people, but after awhile, I realized that it didn't matter. Your focus turns solely to the relationship and the internal dialogue of the narrator instead of the usual details that anchor down a story. You stop thinking about the people and start thinking about the love drives them. And that's where the genius of the book lies --- in its simplicty.

Visa vie small passages, The Lover's Dictionary reveals anecdotes of love, both the good kind and the bad, narrated by one half of this couple. These snippets are not in chronological order but each entry touches on the mundane and the special moments between the two. We're shown the various stages of their relationship --- from the butterflies of a first kiss to the irksome habits that go hand in hand with living with someone --- and in a way, each and every one of these moments was relatable to me. We've all be there in some way at some point in our lives. I know I've experienced the nagging doubts as well as the euphoria that accompanies a new relationship. And that's what makes the story so compelling. It felt like Levithan was in my head, putting every feeling I've ever had in just about every relationship right down there on that page... only much more eloquently.

And though we get to see the many wonderful things that go along with being in a relationship, this book isn't all sunshine and rainbows. In addition to the good, we're privy to the bad. There's nagging self doubt, betrayals of the worst kind, hardships to endure and that unfiltered emotion that plagues the narrator. It's a very real, very raw, uncensored look inside the narrator's head as we go through the various stages of the relationship. And while it might not always be pleasant, while it might conjure up some tough memories from my own past, it was unfaltering and honest. We learn that love can sometimes be fleeting but it is also complex and oh so worth it.

And on that note, I'll leave you with a few of my favourite entries:

The funny -

"buffoonery, n. You were drunk, and I made the mistake of mentioning Show Girls in a near-empty subway car. The pole had no idea what it was about to endure." (pg.4)

The sweet-

"ethereal, adj. You leaned your head into mine, and I leaned my head into yours. Dancing cheek to cheek. Revolving slowly, eyes closed, heartbeat measure, nature's hum. It lasted the length of an old song, and then we stopped, kissed, and my heart stayed there, just like that." (pg.88)

And the heartbreaking  -

"motif, n. You don't love me as much as I love you. You don't love me as much as I love you. You don't love me as much as I love you."

Summary Prognosis
The Lover's Dictionary is a sad yet hopeful, raw and incredibly clever book about love and relationships. It's simple and compelling and heartbreaking and swoony all at the same time. The book is compact and easy to read. In fact, it reads more like a short story than a novel, cutting out all the nonsense and shooting straight for the core. For such a fighter, this book definitely made a lover out of me!

Rating: ★★★★½

Read It: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Audible
Discuss It: Goodreads | Author's Website


  1. Wow, this book sounds like nothing I have ever read before. I enjoyed Every Day so I obviously need to read this. Thanks for your awesome review!

    1. Anytime, Kay! I definitely recommend it, especially if you're looking for something quick but different.

  2. Glad this made a lover out of you! I'm adding this to my wishlist. I know you love David Levithan. Great review! That's crazy that you read this one so fast, it must be great.

    1. It was such a fresh, unique story and definitely a very easy read. I really think you'll like this one, Naida!

  3. Someone once told me that The Lovers Dictionary was rubbish, and for some reason, that has really stuck in my brain. But ugh, it's David Levithan - screw them ;)

    1. SAY WHAAAAAAAT?! This is PURE David Levithan in that it's unique, honest and lovely. If you enjoy his other stuff (and I know you do) then I recommend it.


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