The premise of John Green and David Levithan’s new book, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, is relatively straightforward: two teenagers in the greater Chicago area, both named Will Grayson, cross paths one night after both their well-laid plans have gone awry. The first Will Grayson, who speaks in capitalization and is penned by John Green, cannot see a band called Maybe Dead Cats because his fake ID lists him as 20 years old, not 21. The other Will Grayson, David Levithan’s creation, is a moodier, darker character who has no use for capitalization. He is in downtown Chicago looking for a boy he met on the Internet named Isaac, only Isaac has apparently stood him up. (No one on the Internet is who he seems.) They were supposed to meet up at a place called Frenchy’s, which, as it turns out, is a porn shop. Will Grayson #1 happens to be there too, buying a Spanish-language magazine named Mano a Mano so he can amuse his friends who went to the show without him, and so he can at least say he put the fake I.D. to some good use.
Up to this point Will Grayson, Will Grayson has been an amusing ride told in alternating chapters from each Will’s perspective. (It must have been a blast to write.) Once their lives intersect, however, is when the book really takes off. The character who becomes a common link is Tiny Cooper — a larger-than-life, unabashedly gay football player who is writing a musical based on his own life entitled Tiny Dancer. Tiny is Will Grayson #1’s best friend. He becomes Will Grayson #2’s boyfriend once they meet. And he, in his own fabulous way, helps both Will Graysons through the narrow gate that is adolescence, though there is plenty of angst, confusion and heartbreak along the way.
I (Ben) have always been a fan of John Green’s writing: it’s witty, self-deprecating, and above all honest. He has a knack for taking big ideas — this time around it’s quantum mechanics and Schrödinger’s cat — and seamlessly weaving them into his story. (One reason he’s such a successful YA author — his teenage characters are smart. He never underestimates his audience.) Having never read David Levithan before (he co-wrote Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, among others), I was pleasantly surprised to find him John’s equal. Aside from their typographical differences, both Will Graysons emerge as distinct personalities who share more in common than Tiny Cooper. They are both at that precarious teenage moment when they realize who they’ve been is not who they could be. Will Grayson #1 lives by two rules — 1. Don’t care too much, and 2. Shut up — because it makes life simpler, free from conflict, messy relationships and romance drama. Will Grayson #2 is depressed, possibly suicidal, and filled with self-loathing, though friends see in him something better that he doesn’t quite want to believe is there. Both embark on relationships, neither of which runs smooth, but which shake them out of their protective shells.
There is much to like about this book — I read several passages out loud to Erin because they simply had to be shared — and I enthusiastically recommend it. My only quibble is with the ending — Tiny’s musical itself, which culminates with a slightly hokey plot hatched by the two Will Graysons to reciprocate their love for Tiny Cooper. The emotion was heartfelt and well-earned, though — and I should disclose here that I hate high school musicals of all stripes. Also that I have never watched “Glee” and probably never will. So I may be biased here. No matter: this book deserves the accolades that will comes its way.