If you have any interest at all in YA, or are planning on writing YA, you must read this book. Reading this book is akin to taking a master class in YA literature. David Levithan is not only the co-writer of such cult-turned-iconic works as Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, but he is also a Scholastic bigwig and innovator of the imprint Push, purveyor of straight-up, tell it like it is contemporary fiction. John Green has become a figurehead for YA, sporting a long lists of awards, legions of die-hard fans, and an impressive web presence that all emerging authors should study and learn from.
Both Levithan and Green are able to tap into (very different) male teenage brains. Levithan’s quirky syntax and various narrative forms (IMing, in this novel) serve as an extension of his characters. They tend to be dark and gritty, which is definitely true of his Will Grayson. Green’s characters are always complex, likable, and drawn with incredible attention to detail. One of the most original aspects of his writing is the way his male characters love women. Green’s teens (gotta love a rhyme) may be partially fuelled by lust, but they also notice the little details that girls hope guys notice, but suspect they never do. They aren’t lusting after the cheerleader, but the smart girl in the unique outfit who is kind of dorky but also unspeakably cool, even though SHE doesn’t think she is. Green’s heroines also tend to be whip-smart and mouthy, a combo I definitely approve of.
The friendship between Will Grayson number one (so named by me because he is the first Will Grayson we are introduced to) and his best friend Tiny Cooper is unqiue and refreshing. Everything about Tiny is big: big personality, big baritone voice, big-boned. WG #1 is grudginly devoted to Tiny despite his best friend’s infuriating tendencies. It’s so nice to read about a platonic relationship between a straight boy and a gay boy; they seem to be so rare in fiction.
Will Grayson Number Two has just been betrayed in a horrendous “joke” by a girl who claims to be his friend. Sadly, she is the only thing close to a friend that WG #2 has. Her deplorable actions lead him to cross paths with WG #1 and consequently, Tiny Cooper. Tiny and WG #2 embark on an intense relationship, Tiny knowing he was gay “before he knew what sex was,” and WG #2 coming to terms with his sexuality in the middle of it all.
Meanwhile, WG#1 can’t decide if he likes Jane or not. (Any girl who has had a guy friend who appears to like her, then when called on it says he’s not interested, after which he immediately resume flirting, will recognize this scenario and appreciate the insight). Up to this point, WG #1 has cultivated an attitude of not caring to get by. Not surprisingly, it hasn’t really been working. The reader is aware (even if the character isn’t) that WG#1 DOES care; in fact, he is a deeply caring friend who suffers from bouts of insecurity and selfpity.
What follows is an insightful portrayal of teenage relationships, including the intensity, insecurity, infactuation, and *spoiler alert* the combustive power of it all. In both relationships, there are some fantastically romantic and also cringe-worthy moments. It doesn’t matter if you’re gay, straight, or bi, you will relate to the truths Green and Levithan present about relationships.
Oh, and there’s a musical.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson is available now from Dutton Books.