The Lover's Dictionary

David Levithan, the author of eight novels aimed at young adults (and co-author of four more, including Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist) makes his first foray into adult fiction with The Lover's Dictionary. It's a quirky assortment of defined words whose meanings add up to the arc of a two-year romance. Told in first-person by a man whose name we never learn, this dictionary's sole resemblance to the real thing starts and ends with its alphabetical structure.


A isn't for Apple here, it's for Aberrant, as in "'I don't normally do this sort of thing,' you said. 'Neither do I,' I assured you.'" The definition lets us know the couple met online and slept together on the first date. With entries as short as a five-word sentence ("reverberate, v. Why did your father leave?") to definitions that run on for a page or two, the details trickle out. The narrator and his girlfriend live together in Manhattan. They keep their books on separate shelves. She drinks too much. He's insecure. She has more than a few secrets. He fights the urge to read her email.


Word by word, Levithan patiently builds a portrait of a love story. As a reader, you'd better be patient, too. The details trickle out, often frank and funny, occasionally heartbreaking. Words like aloof, corrode, cajole, kerfuffle and, yes, love ("n. I'm not going to even try.") build not so much a novel as a line drawing of a relationship.


Whether things end well or badly with "zenith, n." is for the reader to decide, and may well tip the balance of whether this sweet but slight volume gets tucked into a beloved's Valentine's Day's day bouquet.

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