Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

John Green and David Levithan
Dutton, 2010, 310 pp., $17.99
ISBN: 978-0-525-42158-0
John Green (Looking for Alaska) and David Levithan (Boy Meets Boy) co-wrote Will Grayson, Will Grayson, an uproariously funny novel that problematizes traditionally received notions of friendship and love. In alternating chapters, Green and Levithan relate the narrative from the viewpoint of two teenage boys, both of whom are named Will Grayson, and both of whom are reluctant to invest themselves in the business of living for fear of getting hurt. When a series of unexpected events involving, amongst other things, a fake I.D., a porn shop, and an Internet romance gone bad conspire to bring the two Wills together, their lives--and the lives of those around them--intersect in ways no one could have anticipated.

Green's Will Grayson lives according to two rules: 1) don't care, and 2) shut up. Afraid of being hurt, he is reluctant to engage in relationships with others, and remains hidden in the shadow of his flamboyantly gay friend, Tiny Cooper. Tiny's nickname is, of course, ironic. A star on the high school's football team, and an over-sized personality, he is anything but small. He is also the antithesis of Will in so far as he pursues life with a reckless abandon and leaps enthusiastically into one relationship after another. Though Green admittedly has a distinctive voice, readers who are familiar with his work will likely find Will and Tiny reminiscent of characters who have come before them--think Miles and Chip in Looking for Alaska, or Colin and Hassan in An Abundance of Katherines.

In contrast, Levithan's Will suffers from chronic depression, and does his best to keep those who would befriend him at a distance. Unable to recognize any good in himself, and unsure how to tell others he is gay, the character exists in a state of self-imposed isolation, sabotaging those who would befriend him. It is not until he meets the other Will Grayson, and, through him, Tiny, that he is given the impetus he needs to question his self-destructive tendencies.

Like Green, Levithan respects the intellect of his audience, and in this novel both authors challenge readers to think critically about complex issues, something that can't always be said of those who write for adolescents. As funny as the novel is, it is also thought provoking, and it treats sensitive issues with considerable respect. Will Grayson, Will Grayson will appeal to a number of teenagers, though the inclusion of strong language and sexual references make it a book for mature readers.

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