Friday, January 6, 2012

Book Review: Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Summary: Will Grayson, Will Grayson follows the lives of two teenage boys, with the same name (Will Grayson) in alternating perspectives, one written by John Green and the other by David Levithan. Their lives intertwine as they both try to find love and find a life.


Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a successful novel. It's smart, it's funny, and it's genuine.

Above all, it is well written. But do I really have to say that? I mean, it unites two great current YA authors, David Levithan and John Green. Whenever I've disliked parts of their previous novels, it was always the plot or character. It was never the writing. Because John Green's writing in Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines is so good. And because basically every word of David Levithan's Lover's Dictionary is brilliant.

For me, that is what makes this novel successful. The characters are strong, unique, and funny. And the plot is somewhat original. But what I'm going to remember from Will Grayson, Will Grayson is the writing.

What makes Green and Levithan so great, in my eyes at least, is that they attempt things other authors don't. They attempt to tap into larger emotions, universal truths, and philosophical questions. And mostly, they succeed. There are a lot of these types of passages in Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Here's one for you:
"need is never a good basis for any relationship. it has to be much more than that." 
 When I read that line, I thought of my relationship with my best friend, and how, sometimes, is has become of relationship more about need and less about want or like, and how that has been an issue for us. When I read that line I was able to make sense of a relationship that has confused me for three years. To me, that is the power of writing. That is what excites me about books. That is why I read.

There was also a lot of discussion in the novel about the relationship between truth and love. That didn't work so well for me. It felt a little forced, and it never really made much sense to my life or my experiences. But I can still admire it, and admire them for it. For they try. And, usually, they succeed.

When I hear people talk about this book, I usually hear about Tiny Cooper. And now I understand why. Tiny Cooper is a big character. He's unique and hilarious and loveable. The book is written in alternating chapters: one from John Green's Will Grayson, then one from David Levithan's Will Grayson. For a lot of the book, especially in the beginning, the characters were separate. What eventually united them was Tiny Cooper. I found it interesting to see how Green's Will reacted to something Tiny Cooper did in comparison to how Levithan's Will reacted. And Tiny Cooper's musical was amazing. There's no denying it.

I feel like I have to pick a Will Grayson or pick a stronger author. For most of the novel, I would pick John Green. I found his Will Grayson more enjoyable to read. But Levithan was writing about a depressed, nihilistic teenager. That's not always going to be enjoyable. Also, Levithan wrote entirely in lowercase. I never really figured out why. Was this some sort of e.e. cummings symbolic thing? Some rage against the machine? Maybe I'm just stupid, but I never truly figured it out. I've found that kind of issue with Levithan's previous novels as well. There are always pieces I have to interpret and I'm never quite sure I get the interpretations right.

The other reason I really liked John Green's half because of the romance. In his previous books, Green has never really had a wholly good romance. It's always about idealizing Alaska or deconstructing Margo. But here, we finally get a sweet romance from John Green. Hallelujah! The romantic moments between Jane and Will were original and adorable. Full marks on that front.

There was also romance in Levithan's half, but it was harder. The main relationships his Will Grayson have are doomed from the start, and I think every reader knows that. Levithan's Will ultimately ends in a good place, but it takes a long time to get there, and it's a hard road.

Speaking of Levithan's romance, I'd like to talk about the gay aspect to this book. On the inside cover of my copy of the book is referred to as a "LGBT title", which really surprised me. Because to me, this doesn't feel like an issue book the way a lot of the LGBT books do. I mean, yeah, there are gay characters--Tiny Cooper, Will Grayson, and many others--but I didn't think of them as "gay characters" per say, as much as "characters who happen to be gay". Their sexuality was in no way their defining trait to me, and I think that's really a strength of the novel. John Green is a proponent of "viewing other people complexy", as he describes in many of his vlogbrothers videos and many of his previous novels, particularly Paper Towns. I think that idea really comes through in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, as each of the characters is viewed so complexy that no one trait, not even sexuality, defines them. Furthermore, I liked how the novel viewed relationships complexy, in particular the relationship between Tiny Cooper and Green's Will Grayson. John Green always writes great male friendships; I was really glad to see him really develop and deconstruct such a great one in this novel.

Speaking of vlogbrothers, this novel made me question the relationship between the reader and the author, in terms of modern day technology. I have recently gotten into the vlogbrothers, a youtube channel John Green runs with his brother Hank Green, as well as the FIFA games his airs on the Hankgames channel. In my hours of watching these videos, I've heard John Green talk a lot about his personal beliefs, including his questioning of society's fascination with romantic relationships.

This same questioning is brought forth by Green's Will Grayson on page 259 of the novel. Now, I'm not sure how to react to that. I mean, in a way, it feels awkward to me, because I know it's something John Green believes. When I reading it, I specifically thought that; this had the effect of removing me the character a little bit and thinking "oh, this is what John Green wants me to learn." I have noticed this before since I've started following authors online. For instance, I know that Meg Cabot's grandmother gave her a doll collection, so when I read that one of her characters had a similar collection, I knew that that was something Cabot was taking directly from her real life. In a way, I think it's really cool to have all this access to author's the way we do today, and in a way I feel really awesome for knowing all this stuff. But in another way, I feel limited, like my reading experience is hurt because of it. What do you guys think?

Will Grayson, Will Grayson made me ask many questions. It made me think and it made me laugh. I didn't love it, but I enjoyed it. I easily recommend it to the world.

1 comment:

  1. you have an awesome review, have a nice day!


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