I read Salon.com's book reviews regularly and they frequently influence my choice of books. With a recent headline that read, "Gay Young Adult Fiction Hits the Mainstream" I had to at least consider the book under discussion. Particularly since the review noted that Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan is the first gay-themed novel to make it onto the New York Times children's best seller list and, "is rapidly becoming the Twilight of queer lit." I'm not even a Twilight fan but that's still an intriguing idea, although a little misleading since this book is about normal teenagers with no supernatural characteristics.
The book tells the story of two high school students (one gay, one straight) who share the name Will Grayson. They attend different high schools but through a series of unlikely events end up meeting each other in a most unexpected way. Soon they and their friends are intermingling and their stories come together in ways as outlandish and yet beliveable as an Armistead Maupin plot.
Sometimes I don't like books written in first person. But this book uses the device so ingeniously, I can't image it written any other way. With two writers, each writing one of the Wills, the voice of the characters is so different, so personal, that you can't help but grow to care about them. And since alternating chapters are voiced by a different Will Grayson, you discover how key moments in the book affect each Will differently.
The writing is crisp and charming. The characters come to life as modern teenagers thanks to some ingenious writing techniques. Gay Will's chapters are written with no capitalization and with dialogue that reads more like an IM stream than traditional written conversation. And while that should be annoying, it works brilliantly.
Another thing to like about this book is the supporting cast. Even minor characters are written with care. Take the parents; gay Will's single mom and straight Will's cancer-fighting parents are perfectly balanced. They're out of touch enough to allow plenty of teenage eye rolling. And yet they're loving enough to know when to step in and say just the right thing.
Then there's Tiny Cooper, the massive football-playing, show-tune-loving gay friend of straight Will. He's a lover not a hater as evidenced by his endless stream of boyfriends. And he's writing, directing, choreographing, and starring in the high school's musical production of Tiny Dancer: The Tiny Cooper Story. There are a number of delightful lyrics from the show like when Tiny's eighteen ex-boyfriends enumerate their reasons for dropping him:
ex-boyfriend 1: you're too clingy
ex-boyfriend 2: you're too singy
ex-boyfriend 3: you're so massive
ex-boyfriend 4: i'm too passive
ex-boyfriend 5: i'd rather be friends
ex-boyfriend 6: i don't date tight ends
. . . and so on.
Sure the ending of this book is overworked and a slight disappointment, particularly after such a rewarding read. (It also feels suspiciously reminiscent of the ending of another mainstream, gay-themed entertainment; In and Out starring Kevin Kline and Tom Selleck.) But that can't bring down this charming story that proves love and friendship are alive and well among all those brooding teens. I highly recommend Will Grayson, Will Grayson. And I'd pay top dollar for front-row seats to Tiny Dancer.