I confess: I have not yet read any of John Green's books. After burning through WILL GRAYSON WILL GRAYSON in an evening, this will be changing as soon as I can get my library fines paid off and my borrowing privileges restored.
Because Will Grayson, Will Grayson was fantastic. I was a little leery; I like David Levithan, but I have found that I get a little irritated with his - what? - optimism? - by the time I finish one of his books. I've also read Levithan's co-authored Naomi & Eli's No Kiss List (with Rachel Cohn), and I find the back-and-forth a little irritating as well.
Not so with the Will Graysons of this book!
Each Will has a distinct personality, and writes with a distinct (and appealing) voice. Early on, I couldn't decide which Will Grayson I identified with more; by the end, I did choose one (and it's....will grayson!). But both are compelling and interesting and felt reasonably authentic to me. I liked that neither Will was super-well-adjusted nor super-messed-up. Neither is totally friendless; neither is especially popular. They each seem to fit into a very average-feeling high-school niche while at the same time retaining their own fantastic personality.
The book is funny, too - Tiny Cooper, the really, really large and really really gay hero of the book - is funny in both the stereotypical queeny gay way and in his own self-absorbed but genuinely kindhearted way. His musical - initially called Tiny Dancer, a name which makes me giggle every time I see it - is both brilliant and campily hilarious. I find myself wishing, fervently, that I could see the scene in which Tiny is visited by the ghost of Oscar Wilde.
It's a buddy book, a romance - multiple romances, really - an almost-but-not-quite coming of age book. It's got queer characters happily going about being queer, without making their queerness the focus of the book. It's not incidental queerness; the queerness permeates the entire book as both a practical fact of the lives of the characters and as a sensibility, an aesthetic maybe, of the text. There's no effort at "normalizing," (ie, making the gays just like everyone else!) but we see clearly and repeatedly that, in fact, every single character has his own set of issues, many of them inflected by gayness or queerness. But the three main characters - the two Wills, and Tiny - are all multidimensional. No one is stuck being a sidekick or a caricature.
Having just re-read (twice in one week) and taught Markus Zusak's I Am the Messenger, I was struck at the novel's end by how much resonance it has with Zusak's book. I'm not sure I can even explain how, just yet - I think I need to sit with Will Grayson Will Grayson a little longer, perhaps read it again - but there is a shared worldview there. A kind of positivity that manages to avoid dipping into gross sentimentality or perky unbelievability. Levithan and Green have managed to create an emotionally rich and real, moving story without falling into the vast abyss of the sappy and unrealistic. As with Zusak's novel, by the end I felt as though the events of the book were just this side of "that could never happen in real life." It's almost far-fetched, almost beyond the realm of the really plausible - but only almost. The world doesn't have to turn too far on its axis for those events to become very possible, even likely.
I am not keen to turn books into movies, but Tiny is utterly cinematic. He defies convention - a huge gay teenager who is attractive to other boys. he's also got a voice and personality to match the hugeness of his body (I think Will Grayson tells us that Tiny is six-foot-six), and that kind of larger than life persona is one that deserves to be on the screen. Unfortunately, I'm sure any director and screenwriter who end up with this in their hands will disobey RuPaul's injunctions and totally f*ck it up. Probably by scaling back Tiny and amping up the hetero love story.
But! This is really a masterfully written book - it's brilliantly plotted, the language is just excellent, the characters' voices are deep and rich and mesmerizing. Each time the narration switched between Will Graysons, I felt a bit of a wrench - I hated to leave whichever Will I was with at the moment.
I will be buying this book for my own personal collection, and I will be adding it to my list of Books I HAVE to teach. I'd like to pair it, pedagogically, with I Am the Messenger, and then maybe one of those grim-adolescence novels - Portman's King Dork comes to mind (I love King Dork, despite it's very serious girl problems, but it does represent a pretty specific, and grim, side of adolescence). Levithan and Green have created, in WILL GRAYSON WILL GRAYSON a set of characters and a story that encompasses many sides of adolescence - the grimness, the confusion, the silliness, the anxiety, the overwrought love and lust, the friendships, the betrayals, the fun, the risks that fail and the risks that pay off. It's a book that - somehow, even to me (and I am an awfully cynical reader) - manages to affirm the failures and the successes of life, in an utterly believable fashion.
Three cheers for the Will Graysons of this world, and to David Levithan and John Green: I appreciate you.