Note: I would like to take this opportunity to boast that I am now ahead of schedule. I have complete 25% of my book goal and the year will not be 25% complete until Friday. Go me!
It really hurts to give this book less than five stars. It is nearly physically painful to type that “4.5” instead of “5” for my overall rating, because 99% of the book is the best kind of fabulous that there is. It is only because the climactic moment in the last fifteen pages is so contrived, so unrealistic, so cliched and so off-putting that I’m knocking it down a half a star. Even with that ending, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
That being said, I almost stopped reading it at the second chapter.
Let me explain. The book is the story of two teenaged boys who do not know each other, both named Will Grayson, one straight, one gay. John Green writes Straight Will Grayson, and David Levithan writes Gay Will Grayson. They alternate chapters, each writing their own Will Grayson’s first-person point of view. The leadoff chapter is Green, and I immediately fell in love with his style, his Grayson, but mostly with the character who’s arguably more central than either of the Wills, namely Straight Will Grayson’s gay best friend, Tiny Cooper, who is possibly the awesomest gay character I’ve ever read. He’s a huge, hulking football player who is fabulously, openly gay and real in a way that transcends stereotype. Tiny is searching for love while he tries to get the school to finance a production of Tiny Dancer, the stage musical he’s written about his life. Green seems to be writing from inside my own head. He’s drawing his cultural vocabulary from the same sources that I do, even using some of my own personal favorite non-words like “confuzzled,” and this made me feel comfortable in his prose immediately.
Then…the second chapter. The first of Levithan’s chapters featuring Gay Will Grayson. His sections are written in a no-caps, alternative-punctuation style that annoyed me right away, and Gay Will Grayson is the most irritating, stereotypical Emo Goth Kid imaginable, with the detachment and the clinical depression and the woe, betide. I nearly didn’t make it through. But I wanted to get back to SWG and Tiny Cooper so badly that I kept reading.
Then this amazing thing happened. Gay Will Grayson got better. I don’t mean to say that he became less emo, but his self-expression became more layered. Then, something truly awful happens to him, and this awful thing leads him to finally meet Straight Will Grayson and Tiny Cooper, and somehow I found myself liking Gay Will Grayson as well. He and Tiny make a stab at having a relationship, while Tiny tries to make Straight Will Grayson abandon his self-imposed detachment (read: defense mechanism) long enough to date their cute friend Jane. Tiny gets the funding for his musical, and things escalate from there.
I can’t say too much about what put me off so badly about the ending without spoiling you. It was logistically not believable, first of all, it wasn’t thematically fitting, second, and it was too over-the-top and feel-good for a book that had been pretty fiercely dedicated to truthfulness up to that point. It’s like they took the “And I’m gay!” ending to the movie In & Out and dialed it up to eleven.
But that isn’t enough to make me not recommend the book. I loved it, and the characters are fantastic, especially Tiny Cooper, the very model of a modern gay teenager and somebody we’ve never seen before on the page. A unique creation, both character and novel, and a great read. As a young-adult title, there isn’t any sex (just some kissing) but a fair amount of sex-referencing and R-rated language.