When I heard that John Green and David Levithan were teaming up to write a novel about the life and times of a manic-depressive gay teenager, I was understandably stoked. The authors of Looking for Alaska and Boy Meets Boy working together? Brilliant! What they achieved, though, is more than even I, an admitted fan of both writers, could have imagined. There are two Will Graysons – well, in fact, there are many Will Graysons, but there are two Will Graysons with whom this book concerns itself. The first is a straight, socially awkward and girl-shy sidekick to one Evanston, IL (i.e. Chicago) school’s biggest (literally) gay student; the other is a semi-psychotic, tortured, poor gay loner from Naperville, IL – a suburb just about an hour outside the city. Somehow, these two boys with the same name meet unexpectedly and hilariously in a Chicago porn shop called “Frenchy’s” – neither of them planned to be there, and both were too young to get in. Still, cosmic fate being what it is, these two Will Graysons were brought together and changed by one big, giant, glamorous and fabulous gay boy named, ironically, “Tiny.” Tiny falls in love with nearly every boy he meets – and his life’s ambition is to write a musical about … wait for it… his life! The musical evolves, though, through Tiny’s struggles with Will Grayson 1 (the best friend whose friendship suddenly starts to strain) and Will Grayson 2 (the love interest who is no good for Tiny, but who impacts Tiny more profoundly than anyone else ever has).
I absolutely fell in love with the characters in this book, as I did in both books by these authors, read previously. Each Will Grayson is distinct and identifiable, and not just because the prose is different, nor because each Will Grayson is written by one of the authors (thereby resulting in a separate voice). They are distinguishable because their stories and histories are different; their attitudes and outlooks are different; they grow in different ways, interact with others in different styles; they learn different lessons, and show their appreciation for Tiny and their friendships and new relationships (Will 1 with Jane and Will 2 with Gideon) in singular ways. Also, though they are both “loner” types, the Will Graysons interact with their few friends and with their parents in dissimilar ways as well. Tiny, too, is brilliant – loveable and annoying at the same time. He (and Will 2) instantly reminded me of people in my own past – people I can recall with both fond memories and some not so pleasant ones. The ability to recall one’s past through a story – that “reaching out and taking a hand” which Alan Bennett writes of in his play, The History Boys, makes the book and its characters so easy to relate to and to be drawn in by. Even the minor characters, such as Jane and Gideon, the musical’s cast members, the parents, and some of the teachers are all conducive to the plot in some way, without ever feeling unnecessary, over-the-top, or unrealistic. Will 2’s relationship with “Isaac” and its ultimate conclusion is also fascinating and terrifying.
4 – Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.
Another of the great positives for this book is that it is written by two authors (normally not something I enjoy) who each take on the job of writing one of the Will Grayson characters. David Levithan writes the gay, depressed Will (2) and John Green writes the coming-to-terms-with-growing-up straight Will (1), who ultimately learns not to succumb to his life rule #2 of “Shut Up.” That each character was written by a separate author allowed the two to really grow and develop singularly and independently, yet in relation to the story as a whole. Their meeting and link through Tiny is what holds their two worlds together, and which creates a cogent and highly readable storyline. I adored, as well, the inclusions of notes, poetry, and song – at times, I could truly imagine this book taking place on stage, characters as cast members, breaking into comic musical numbers about the dangers of being a gay tight end on the high school football team! What this means is the story, though written in prose, is highly visual and aural, so it literally comes to life in your imagination. I could picture these characters, I could hear their songs, I could imagine the sounds of their voices. The mastery of prose – though relatively simple (YA reading level), allows even a discriminate, adult reader to feel accomplished in reading the book.
The final result of the musical, and the book, is that each of these three main characters – Tiny, Will Grayson, and Will Grayson, all come to terms with who they really are and, equally important, with what they mean to one another. You can love a friend as a friend. You can remain friends with an ex. You can appreciate another person without having to put your heart and soul into your relationship with that person – but the point is, ultimately, that you have to be honest. You have to open that metaphorical box and let Schrodinger’s cat loose – or you will never know if the friendships are alive or dead, they will just remain meaninglessly mundane and inconsequential, forever. There is also much to be said, in context, about gay rights and the “live and let live mentality.” The importance of forgiveness, too, rears its head – it is forgiveness which allows the gay Will Grayson (Will Grayson 2) to let go of some of his pain and anger, to allow himself real friendships with decent people, and to do something good for someone else. Love. Friendship. Acceptance. Forgiveness. This is Will Grayson, Will Grayson.