Saturday, May 01, 2010

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by Green & Levithan - Buddy review!!

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan
Copyright 2010
Dutton Books - Fiction/YA
310 pages

Oh, boy! I got to do a buddy read with Kelly (aka "Kailana" of The Written World)!! I've been reading her buddy reviews with other people and enjoying them, and we were both excited about John Green's latest release. It's been loads of fun bouncing emails back and forth.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is the story of two teenagers with the same name who meet each other and then find their lives intersecting in various ways. The chapters alternate from one Will's viewpoint to the other. I've made a comment on the device used to distinguish the chapters, below.

The first Will Grayson's best friend is a boy named Tiny Cooper. Tiny is huge, expressive and very gay. Will isn't even sure he likes being friends with Tiny, but they've had an off-and-on friendship for years and his other friends drifted away when he wrote a letter defending Tiny's right to be on the football team, regardless of his sexual orientation. The other Will (#2) is gay and depressed. In general, everyone just wants to be loved and accepted and when the two Wills cross paths, they end up helping each other in unexpected ways.

Kelly and I each came up with three questions and answered both sets. You can read Kelly's answers at The Written World.

My answers to Kelly's questions:

1. How did you feel when you finished the book? Has your initial reaction stayed the same, or do you feel differently about the book?

I had mixed feelings when I closed the book. In some ways I liked it better than Paper Towns (my least favorite book by John Green) because everything seemed to be wrapped up a little better; I didn't feel like there were any loose ends or that the whole point of the book sort of went splat. But, I can't say it was a great book and now I think . . . actually, on reflection I like Paper Towns better. I just thought the storyline was really overwhelming. I liked the writing and I also thought the theme of acceptance of yourself and others was very clear. The overall reading experience was a little disappointing, though. I don't think I'd ever reread the book.

2. Which character in the book was your favourite? Least favourite?

I liked Jane, the straight Will Grayson's "love interest", if you can call her that. And, I liked Gideon, the gay Will Grayson's gay friend -- both of whom were secondary characters. I think it was at least in part because those two characters weren't obsessed with sex and seemed to have their acts together; and, maybe because they were just the kind of people who were there when they needed to be to support their friends. But, I also think the two Will Graysons were pretty odd and rather bland. One was gay, fatherless and depressed and the other so vague and colorless that I kept forgetting the circumstances of his home life. Tiny was just exhausting, although I did like his enthusiasm and I thought there was a deeper meaning to his energy level and good cheer, which was nicely described via dialogue with Will #1, toward the end of the book.

3. What did you think about the ending? (Without giving too much away.)

The ending was so bizarre. I don't think it's telling too much to say the ending involves a play written by Tiny Cooper. I thought the play itself was kind of creative, if weird. The entire book led up to that ending but I don't know exactly what I expected -- probably a little less of the play and more of the action around it. For some reason, the fact that it was going to end up being central totally escaped me. What happened in the audience and the ending comments about the two Will Graysons were, I thought, awfully far-fetched. I left the book with a bit of an "I don't buy that" sensation.

My answers to My own questions:

4. What other books have you read by John Green and/or David Levithan and how do you think Will Grayson compares?

I've read An Abundance of Katherines, Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska. What I really loved about all three books is that they were immensely creative and the characters were, for the most part, extremely intelligent and very well-rounded. I didn't feel like I ever got to know the two Will Graysons as well as the protagonists in the other John Green books and I thought Will Grayson #1 was a little on the flat and lifeless side. He improved throughout the book, but he just wasn't as interesting as the typical John Green protagonist. I've never read anything by David Levithan, but it seems like he has a very similar voice to that of John Green and since I like John Green I'll likely read more by him.

5. There was one thing about the book that really, really annoyed me but which I eventually became accustomed to. Did anything about the book get on your nerves?

I found the lack of capitalization and lousy punctuation in Will Grayson #2's chapters extremely annoying. Here's an example:

i have no idea why anyone would want to become a teacher. i mean, you have to spend the day with a group of kids who either hate your guts or are kissing up to you to get a good grade. that has to get to you after a while, being surrounded by people who will never like you for any real reason. i'd feel bad for them if they weren't such sadists and losers.

Eventually, I did get used to it, but that doesn't mean it was comfortable to read. Assuming the point was to distinguish the two characters' chapters, I think italics would have done the trick a bit better. I also got really sick of Tiny waxing on about the loves of his life, primarily because of the sheer quantity -- if I remember right, he'd had 33 crushes and/or boyfriends by the end of his senior year in high school. That seemed kind of insane.

Kelly mentioned a scene in which Tiny got very drunk. It was pretty disgusting and I still don't think it did anything to forward the plot. It wasn't something that stuck with me, in the end, but I agree with her that it was a nasty scene and I personally think it could have been left out.

6. What did you consider the main theme of the book? Do you think the sheer quantity of gay characters diluted the theme or made it more powerful?

I thought the theme was that regardless of our preferences (for the opposite sex or music or whatever) we should be accepting of other people, that acceptance and presence -- being there for each other because friends care about each other, not only just to have a good time together but when needed to help our friends through a rough time -- is the basis of lasting friendship.

I thought Will Grayson #1 did a rather nice job of expressing the theme via his discovery that Tiny Cooper was and always had been his best friend, even though at times his best friend made him cringe. But, I did think the quantity of gay characters lessened the impact. I felt so completely overwhelmed that the book was hard to believe. There was never an absence of disbelief. I always felt like I was outside of this story, looking in. It was too unrealistic to believe in the characters and feel involved with them.

Kelly mentioned that the acceptance theme extends to accepting yourself as you are and I totally agree with that. After mulling the book for several days, I'd completely forgotten about the importance of friendship in the book and it was the idea of accepting each other and one's self that stuck with me. As you near the end of the book, most of the characters seem to have had some sort of epiphany that has made them become more comfortable with who they are.

Side note:

I love that cover. It's so pretty. I see it as an abstract representation of the color and excitement of the ending scenes (Tiny's play). Also, I loved the name of the band the characters are obsessed with: Neutral Milk Hotel. It's just odd enough to work.

And a warning:

There is some really nasty language in this book and I think it's deserving of a family warning. This is the second YA book I've read that has a certain word I consider X-rated and I would not hand the book to my son (meaning "recommend it to him"). He wouldn't read it, anyway. Kiddo prefers plot and Will Grayson is really more about relationships, acceptance, finding love and finding oneself. But, if my son liked this kind of book and desired to read it, I would tell him what I thought of the language before he walked off with it. My 18-year-old and I discuss books and if there's something I dislike or disagree with and I've already read a book, I'll tell him in advance. But, I don't censor his reading.

Thanks, Kelly! We need to do this again, sometime. :)


  1. After that review, I'm not sure what to think of the book. I don't think I'll run right out to buy it, but if it drops in my lap, I'll probably read it.

  2. Kathy,

    That sounds reasonable to me. It's a good book but it's will not go on my keeper shelves.

  3. If you like the NAME Neutral Milk Hotel, you should totally check out the band :D They're awesome!!! Personally, I loved this book and pretty much everything about it :p Some of the characters were overly exhaustive...Tiny did wear me out at times :/ But I really liked Will Grayson number 2...the depressed gay one. And I'm totally with you on Jane!!! I thought she was such a fantastic character! I love you two's review :D Y'all did a fantastic job!

  4. Chris,

    Seriously?? I thought Neutral Milk Hotel was a fictional name!! I think it's utterly cool. I'll have to look them up, although I'm so old it seems unlikely I'll like the same stuff as teenaged characters. :)

    Jane was great, wasn't she? I did think Will #2 was a more interesting character than Will #1. He seemed to grow more. Thanks. Kelly and I had a little trouble coordinating and then I screwed up and posted her answers because I thought it was kind of an interviewy-type Q/A thing but she corrected me as soon as I got online after our morning storm.

    I'm so sick of weather, right now. Is there anyplace one can move that has no weather? I'm headed there. :)

  5. Neutral Milk Hotel are actually an older band (their last release is from 1998), and the are seriously TOO AWESOME FOR WORDS :P It always surprises me a little bit (positively, of course) to find teenagers who like them, as I mostly associate them with twenty or thirty-somethings. Do check them out, Nancy! Their album In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is a concept album based on Anne Frank's diary, and it's one of the best things that ever happen to music. (IMHO :P)

  6. Nymeth,

    Between your enthusiasm and Chris's, I went dashing off to YouTube to listen and Amazon to look and guess what? My son's future wife has the LP cover of In the Aeroplane Over the Sea framed on her dining room wall. And, it's my kind of music. I'm going to hate shutting it off, but I can't stay online. The electricity in my office is doing something crazy, at the moment (we had a scary sparking popping bit of fun, this morning) but I'm going to have to get my mitts on that album. Thanks for adding your two cents!!!

  7. Oooh, Nancy...I wanted to ask you. How far away are you from Lacombe? Any idea? My brother is going to a basketball camp there in June and I'm driving him and I was thinking if it's not too far away, I may just continue to drive and come pop on by and say hi :) Spend the day or something and maybe we can do some shopping and grab some lunch or something! Just wondering if it's on the way to you or total opposite direction :/

  8. Chris,

    I had my husband look Lacombe up on Google Earth because I'm stuck on my netbook (we're having electricity problems in the office) and he says it's close to the coast, so that would be pretty far from us. But, when in June? Maybe I could sneak down that way and we could meet up somewhere. I would love to hang out with you.

  9. After reading much gushing a few weeks back and in a moment of weakness I quickly bought this one on Amazon. It will be my first for Green and Levithan, so maybe a good place to start? Your review is pretty lukewarm, but I guess that will keep me a bit grounded while reading it? We can't all love them, huh? Maybe Looking for Alaska will be my next if I'm still in the mood to try more Green.

  10. Trish,

    It's probably a decent place to start. John Green is all kinds of awesome, in my humble opinion, so even though I'm lukewarm about Will Grayson, it's not enough to stop me from my vow to read everything the man ever writes. :) I did the same thing -- bought Will Grayson off Amazon after reading some gushy reviews. Now, I'm not quite sure what to do with it. Swap it, maybe?


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