Will Grayson, Will Grayson

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Apr 1, 2010
Will Grayson, Will Grayson

What goes on in the mind of a teenaged boy? John Green and David Levithan venture into the wilds of two young men's psyches... and they are both named Will Grayson.

Hence the title of the novel, Will Grayson, Will Grayson. One Will Grayson is a straight guy, a student who only joins his Chicago high school's Gay Straight Alliance because his best friend Tiny Cooper (who is, naturally, anything but tiny) has organized it. It doesn't hurt that the smart, attractive Jane is also a member. As soon as Will figures out that she's the "straight" part of the alliance, he's excited--and apprehensive.

Tiny Cooper is a force of nature, a behemoth and dynamo of creative energy; Will Grayson assures us in his first-person prose that Tiny is the "biggest" and "gayest" person he, or anyone else, knows. Tiny is writing and producing a musical, and has taken himself as its subject; this also means that Will Grayson (or a character named Phil Wrayson) is also a part of the play, and Will is not entirely comfortable with this. To add to the stress on his friendship with Tiny, Will's getting just a little tired of hearing about Tiny's rapid-fire succession of intense (but fleeting) crushes.

The other Will Grayson lives in a Chicago suburb. He's gay, but he's not about to join a GSA, mostly because he's not the joining sort. Neither is Maura, his closest friend; as this second Will Grayson puts it, "her doom met my gloom," and the rest was easy.

Well, except for Maura's intimations that she'd like to be dating Will. But Will's not ready to be out about his sexuality (or to be social in any way, really), and besides, he's got a sizzling online romance going with someone named Isaac.

The paths of the Will Graysons cross one winter's night, thanks to a deception, a concert, and a fake I.D. that isn't quite what it's cracked up to be. Once Tiny Cooper and the second Will Grayson meet, it's fireworks--but is their romance destined to founder, given Tiny's track record and Will's deep-seated depression?

Green and Levithan give each of the Will Grayson's a distinctive voice in alternating, first-person chapters, but both characters have a incisive wit and style that keeps the story moving along on a current of laughter. But there are truths and tenderness here as well; the paradoxes of passion and identity are explored with reference to Shroedinger's Cat, a thought experiment addressing uncertainty in quantum physics that is used here as a metaphor for emotional confusion. The metaphor is sometimes a little cumbersome, but it captures the urgent, irritating cross-currents of youthful energy in a way that'll recall the reader's teenage years all too perfectly (or, for teenagers, serve to prove that, yes, someone does understand).

This is touted as a book for young adults, but the emphasis here is on "adult," though always with an eye to the characters' (and intended audience's) youth. These aren't little kids: they have sexual issues (though they don't have sex), and they have complex feelings. They get agitated and throw the f-word around, both out of exasperation and for comic effect (at one point, the second Will Grayson, trying to cheer up his mother, offers her a few choice cuss words to try out, one of them being "fuckweasel." Personally, I find that one worth giving a try at the next suitable occasion).

Both Green and Levithan are critically acclaimed authors, Green for books like Paper Towns and An Abundance of Katherines, and Levithan for Love is the Higher Law and Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist. In their collaboration here, they each bring their own interests and insights to the story--but their voices harmonize with seamless accord. This is a sweet book that's meant to meet teens where they live, rather than sugar-coat them and their lives or condescend. It's also a furiously hurtling meteor of a book, snapping along with verve. If that's not enough, the story builds up to, and converges on, what must be the best--and, yes, gayest--musical production ever dreamed up. This book should be a movie just for the all-out fun of the final chapters.

Publisher: Dutton Juvenile. Publication Date: April 6, 2010. Pages: 304. Price: $17.99. Format: Hardcover. ISBN-13: 978-0-525-421-580

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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