Genre: Young Adult-Realistic Fiction.
Audience: Grades 8-12
Read Aloud: Read Aloud
Summary: This young adult fiction novel proves how small the world really is, especially to young and restless teenagers starving for “truth” about the world around them. Two different characters named Will Grayson are struggling with their identities, one an introverted straight teenage boy, the other a brooding gay teenage boy. The first Will Grayson, marked in the story by uppercase punctuation is straight and best friends with Tiny, an openly gay, slightly flamboyant football player. He meets Jane, Tiny’s friend, and gradually begins to let his guard down around her, even though he has a very strict “shutting up policy”. Will Grayson finds himself either trying to figure Jane out and how he wants to feel about her and putting up with Tiny’s love interests and demand to put on a musical telling the tale about Tiny’s life. The other Will Grayson, marked by lowercase punctuation leads a quiet, miserable life where he fights with his mother or he is being brutally sarcastic to his girlfriend Maura. He is a closeted gay, and finds himself pining over an online crush named Isaac. Maura insisted on Will Grayson admitting that he was gay, but he simply refused. Eventually the two Will Grayson’s meet in a porn shop after the straight Will Grayson is kicked out of a concert for having a fake ID, and the other Will Grayson found out that Isaac was really Maura. In the end, the two Will Grayson’s support one another through their teenage identity issues all while supporting their now mutual friend Tiny as he puts on his very first musical.
Themes: I think the two very prevalent themes in this book are identity and love. It makes perfect sense that identity would be a very large theme in this book, seeming as it is a young adult novel. Teenagers around the same ages as both Will Grayson’s spend many years of their lives trying to figure out who they are. Both Will Grayson’s struggle with what their purpose is and how they want to be seen to those around them. Do they want to be quiet and reserved, painfully miserable on the inside and outside in order to push everyone away? Do they want to forget about feelings at all or to embrace them within the confines of their own minds? The straight Will Grayson firmly believes in his very own shutting up policy, where he speaks minimally to others about virtually nothing. He believes the more he keeps to himself the easier it will be to get through life, a life that is routine to the core and leads to nothing out of the ordinary. He plays it safe for a long time, until he meets Jane who seems to push him away from his typical routine. She invokes feelings within Will that he may not be ready to cope with yet, but because of these feelings he finds himself dealing with moments of vulnerability, someone who takes risks in order to figure out who exactly he wants to be. The other Will Grayson has a huge identity crisis issue going on, especially with his sexuality. He chooses to present himself as straight by dating obnoxious and prodding Maura in order to be seen as somewhat normal, as well as to hide any hint of being gay. He can’t find the strength to come out and be open and comfortable with who he really is, so he hides behind a computer screen hoping for love from a boy he has never met.
Love also plays a very large part in this novel because, much like the quest for identity, finding love and feeling accepted and wanted goes hand in hand with being an angsty teenager. Although the two Will Grayson’s have two different sexual orientations, their problems with love are the same. Gay Will Grayson hides behind his very artificial relationship with Maura in order to be very “in love” with Isaac, his online dream man. He believes Isaac understands him and appreciates him, and he is the only person he can be truthful to because he has the safety of the computer screen between them. What he eventually finds out is he is actually in love with Maura who pretended to be Isaac, which could have potentially ruined his entire outlook on love, until he meets Tiny. Straight Will Grayson is even more confused with the concept of love. He is so hell bent on being alone and not having any interaction beyond what is necessary with the world that he can’t let himself fall head over heels for Jane. Jane coming into his life helps him see that there can be someone who drives him crazy, but in a good way, that there can be someone he can’t stop thinking about or wants to be around. This realization clashes with his idea on shutting up, which makes it very difficult for him to pursue a relationship, or to find love. Even Tiny Cooper finds himself lost in the world of love, or what really is quickly drawn up emotions for anyone who winks when they pass by. Tiny’s conception of love is not only comical, but also another facet of what teenage love tends to be.
Connections: I think this book is perfect for the classroom, especially a high school setting. It is highly relate-able for all students because of its multifaceted themes that specifically deal with issues found in young adults. Will Grayson, Will Grayson is bold, humorous and isn’t afraid to smack you in the fact with a good dose of reality or vulgarity. It’s tone of voice is perfectly written for teenagers because its very colloquial, using a lot of present day lingo that teenagers use, as well as its references to modern day culture such as Facebook. This book will get students to get out of their comfort zone and will one way or another find themselves lost within a character they can see themselves in. It will bring up issues such as dealing with sexuality, identity, love and even family. It will bring up issues in society, as well as give the students a chance to explore different structures in writing.
Reactions: I absolutely loved this book. From the very first few pages I was laughing out loud and craving to read more. I am technically no longer a teenager, however my teenage years were not too long ago, so placing myself in the characters shoes were very easy. The humor in this book was perfect for those who understand sarcasm. I also enjoyed this book a lot because it felt as if I were talking to another person in every day situations, such as the references to Facebook. I understand what a status update is, or what the infatuation with Facebook is, or even adapting to the lowercase chapters because that is how many people, including myself write on the internet. The themes were typical, but the plot lines were interesting. I thought it was very clever that the two Will Grayson’s met, and in the end everything turned out the way it was supposed to. I think that is a very important lesson for not only teenagers; things happen for a reason, and in the end everything turns out the way it is supposed to.
Reception: One reader’s response to Will Grayson, Will Grayson was posted by Cait H. (http://thekams.wordpress.com/2010/04/24/will-grayson-will-grayson-by-john-green-david-levithan/)
“I was a bit slow to start this one, since it was a bit slow to start. Yes, I enjoyed getting to know both Will Graysons, but some plot movement couldn’t come fast enough. As soon as they all met, I was hooked. The middle section of the book sucked me in and by the end I was floored. I’m not sure which Will Grayson I ended up prefering – they were both incredibly unique. They had their own flaws, their own drama, their own endearing qualities. Green’s Will Grayson is struggling with whether or not he really likes new friend Jane, or if he only likes her because she might already have a boyfriend. Levithan’s Will Grayson is struggling with his own identity (he’s still closeted), a major heartbreak and finding Tiny Cooper suddenly in his life. At the beginning, I think I enjoyed Green’s WG a bit more, but in the end it was all Levithan’s WG – I was so incredibly involved in his triumphs and life changes. But Tiny is the character that really made me love this book. He is SUCH an individual, his personality leapt off the pages and you just wanted to hug him.
Even though the book has two writers, the chapters flowed seemlessly together. The writing styles were different enough that I could tell there were two distinct voices, but it worked. In order to know which Will Grayson you were seeing, Levithan’s WG uses no captial letters of any kind. The distinction was nice, but honestly, they were each so well written I wouldn’t have needed it – I could tell immediately which WG I was reading about. There were a few times I questioned the over use of describing Tiny as massive/fat/etc. and I sometimes wanted to slap some sense into Levithan’s WG (and Green’s WG, actually), but overall Will Grayson, Will Grayson blew me away with it’s humour, wit and feel-good end.”
Another readers response was posted by tansyrr (http://tansyrr.com/tansywp/will-grayson-will-grayson-by-john-green-david-levithan/)
“I loved this book. I devoured it fast, in less than a 24 hour period. I haven’t even mentioned Jane, the smart indie chick who makes every scene she’s in utterly brilliant. Or the awesome parents, doing their best to support and understand their kids. Tiny’s parade of ex boyfriends. The Mathletes. Basically this a joyous story which explores how hard it is just to be a teenage boy, from all kinds of different angles, and represents two authors at the absolute top of their game.”