Genre: Young Adult, Realistic Fiction.
Audience: Grades 8-12 (and up)
Read Aloud: This Link Works
Summary: The novel follows the stories of two boys who both go by the name Will Grayson, alternating their points of view each chapter. The first Will Grayson that is introduced is straight and his chapters are always properly capitalized. He attempts to go through life unnoticed and unheard so as to not draw unwanted attention to his person, but his best friend, a rather large and homosexual boy named Tiny Cooper, decides to create a musical about his own life with the character of Will as a co-star. The second will grayson narrates in chapters where his name and his sentences are rarely capitalized and is also a homosexual. He is an extremely depressed boy with little that he looks forward to in life, except for talking to his online “boyfriend” Issac, who turns out to have been a mean-spirited creation by his supposed friend Maura in an attempt to expose his homosexuality. When he goes to Chicago to meet Isaac (before being exposed as Maura) he encounters straight Will Grayson and Tiny, whom he then has a tryst with after being heartbroken over the loss of Isaac. Throughout the rest of the novel, both Graysons struggle to find their own niches and loves, with straight Grayson finding a relationship with the girl he likes whose name is Jane and with gay grayson helping Tiny and himself to understand the concept of love at the culmination of Tiny’s musical.
Themes: One of the most obvious and important themes present in this novel is that of identity. Throughout the entirety of the novel, both or at least one of the Graysons struggle to who they are, where they belong, and what their ultimate purpose is. Straight Grayson is constantly questioning his values (don’t care and shut up) and how he should interact with people, who his true friends really are, and whether or not he should compromise the values he created in order to go out with Jane. Gay grayson makes his way through the novel struggling greatly to figure out his place in the world, hindered as he is by the intense feelings of depression that he must medicate himself in order to subdue. His issue is that he can find a niche in which to occupy, as through most of the novel he keeps his homosexuality secret and has a difficult time relating with other due to both this and his depression.
Another strong theme present in this novel is that of human sexuality. Throughout the story we are introduced to several characters, gay grayson and Tiny Cooper included, who are identified as being homosexual. While gay grayson struggles to understand and explain to the people in his life that he is a homosexual, Tiny comes to terms with it easily and practically revels and is extremely proud of whom he is. These two contrasting viewpoints, in the midst of slurs, jokes, and homosexual insults, serve to exemplify the immense pressures places on those of differing sexual preferences and how that can overcome the challenges places before them and accept themselves for who they are even if not everybody agrees.
Connections: I feel that this novel would be fantastic to use in classrooms. It deals explicitly with many problems that students will and are dealing with everyday. A good majority of the problems that the characters experience deal will identity and peer groups, making it a perfect book to help students to understand how to get along with each other and to try and see where other students are coming from in order to try and walk a mile in their shoes. It could also help students to comprehend homosexuality, which could very well be a foreign or strange concept to them. In doing so, students would at least have a better understanding of homosexuality and be able to make fair and educated decisions and regard those with differing sexual preferences as other human beings instead of something less then.
Reactions: Personally, I found this book to be a great read. It was witty, funny, strong, and an all around good time. The main characters were well thought out, expressive, and had a depth to them that really let me understand what they were going through. Another thing that I really liked was the fact that I knew the settings in which the characters lived and visited (Chicago baby!). What I liked the most however, was how the authors dealt with the homosexual presence in this novel unabashed. They didn’t falter or try and shield the readers or make their gay characters “straighter”, they went all out and really showed life for homosexual students. I applaud them for that and currently recommended this book to a few of my gay friends in the hopes that they can tell me what it was like reading the book through their eyes as well.
Reception: After reading Will Grayson, will grayson, Sonder Books said that, “This book is awesome. Like so many great books do, it helped me put myself in the shoes of someone very different from me, thus looking at my own life and my own world a little differently. I’m glad I read it.”
whateversexual_llama, a reviewer for online Oasis Magazine wrote that, “Beyond all of that, though, I think what makes this book a true gem in the sea of repetitive queer novels is the fact that this book is not about being gay. The gay characters are gay. The straight characters are straight. Their problems have little to do with that. Tiny Cooper is flamboyantly homosexual, but he is completely his own person, breaking out of the media’s overdone stereotypes of what the gay kid is supposed to be like. Tiny loves football as much as he loves theater. He also weighs like 200 pounds, which is incredibly refreshing. The gay Will Grayson is equally unexpected. He is dark and gloomy and unique- not a stock character in any way. Will Grayson, Will Grayson is, I believe, a glimpse of the future, when some people are gay and some aren’t and it isn’t a big issue. Everyone I know who has read it read it in about a day and came out of it smiling. It is unique and fun and it talks about Schrodinger’s cat and comes together to create something new that, I think, is exactly that queer lit today needs.”
P.S. That screen name is hilarious and needed to be known to the world