A winning entry in the ongoing definition of love

"The Lover's Dictionary" by David Levithan; (224 pages, $18)

David Levithan makes every word count in "The Lover's Dictionary," a wonderful little novel about the romance of two people told through dictionary entries.

Some are passionate:

"libidinous, adj.

"I never understood why anyone would have sex on the floor. Until I was with you and I realized: you don't ever realize you're on the floor."

Some are suffused with the romance of everyday life:

"suffuse, v.

"I don't like it when you use my shampoo, because then your hair smells like me, not you."

Some are scared or angry or bitter:

"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."

Levithan, a longtime editor for Scholastic, has written a number of books for teens; he's co-author of the book "Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist." He's carried over into "The Lover's Dictionary," his first novel for adults, that teen-fiction ability to give emotional moments their respect and dignity without encrusting them in irony.

Some of these entries are as a short as a word or two. Most are shorter than a single page.

The narrator meets the partner through an online dating service. They fall in love quickly and move in together soonish. The narrator is insecure and comes from a warm family.

The partner is the life of the party:

"barfly, n.

"You have the ability to talk to anyone, which is an ability I do not share."

The partner also sometimes drinks too much, and comes from a broken family. One cheats on the other on a trip out of town; the shock of that betrayal reverberates through the dictionary:

"breach, n.

"I don't want to know who he was, or what you did, or that it didn't mean anything."

Levithan gives readers the kind of love story that Billy Pilgrim in "Slaughterhouse-Five" would have appreciated: unstuck in time, reliving moments in unpredictable order and in varying emotional colors.

In other words, it's a romance with wit and rue, kisses and tears, that anyone can enjoy.

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