One of the things I enjoy about John Green’s work is that he absolutely does not believe in the Hollywood ending. This isn’t to say he believes in sad, depressing endings, far from it, but he doesn’t believe in the ending we’d come to expect from non-genre YA books. The ending of a John Green book (I’ve read 2.5 so far – this one being the .5 since it’s a co-write) gives the characters a reasonable resolution while not catering to convention or kowtowing to convenience. The other things I enjoy about his works are the complexity and extra-dimensionality of his characters. Now, I’m not saying they’re perfect books, but as someone far removed from the lives and ages of his characters, I can find something in them to identify with.
This story of Will Grayson, Will Grayson revolves around the intersecting story of two Chicago area high school students called, you guessed it, Will Grayson. Their stories are told in alternating first person chapters by Green (odd) and fellow YA author David Levithan (even) and in the printed version, Green’s Grayson is capitalized while Levithan’s Grayson is not. The main crossover character who connects the two is Tiny Cooper, “the world’s largest person who is really, really gay” and “the world’s gayest person who is really, really large.” He is Grayson’s best friend and becomes a boyfriend to grayson. The book circles these various relationships and culminates in what, if it were ever staged, would probably be the most spectacular gay musical numbers since Neil Patrick Harris hosted the 2011 Tony Awards.
Along the way, the authors ruminate on what is love and what are the parent/child relationship responsibilities. They also nail some aspects of the high school experience (although, not having spent a lot of time in a public high school in a while, I do wonder if the hazing the characters experience for being “different” is a little too domesticated – when the leader of the jocks decides to try out for the Tiny Cooper written and produced musical he does it with no irony at all and seems to be immediately accepted and accepting of everything).
And while the high school students seem fully developed, the parents pick up the caricature slack. This may be because we’re seeing them through the eyes of their kids, but it’s still a bit disheartening that they are so cliché. Overall, it’s a good book, and one I’d highly recommend. I’d especially recommend the audio version, which is how I experienced it. The two Graysons are read by two different voice actors so when you have cross-over characters (Tiny Cooper for example) they each put their own spin on him. And they sing. The book includes the lyrics and descriptions of the staging of Tiny’s musical biography (in which he plays, naturally, Tiny Cooper, while the other main character is a thinly disguised “Phil Rayson”, much to Will Grayson’s chagrin) and the actors actually sing the songs! While your experience with audiobooks may vary, the added bonus of hearing the songs here is well worth it. And at just over 7 hours, it’s not a very large time commitment.