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Passing the journal test: will grayson, will grayson

When I was a teen, I think the defining characteristic of a “good book” was if I was so inspired by it that I copied quotations into my journal or wrote them on my purple Chucks to re-read, remember, and define me. It’s been a long time since I felt that feeling, but will grayson, will grayson brought it all back for me.

Two teenage boys living in different suburbs outside of Chicago. They bear the same name, meet coincidentally, and their lives are forever changed. Overly dramatic? Nope. Just the basis for one of the most engaging and real books I’ve read in a long while. It’s so cliché, but honestly from the first page, I was hooked into the lives of these characters. Characters with the same names, but very different lives: one straight, one gay; one Will Grayson (uppercase) and one will grayson (lowercase); one with two parents, the other living with a single mom; one with more financial resources (note the two parents), and the other, well, not; one resigned to not caring and the other living in major depression.

While I neatly created a verbal binary matrix to describe the main characters, don’t be fooled by this simplicity, as the very layered nature of this book was something I really appreciated. Beyond the two protagonists, Levithan and Green — co-authors who alternate writing chapters from the voice of will grayson and o.w.g (other Will Grayson), respectively — develop an incredible cast of realistic and engaging characters that create a realistic, believable contemporary snapshot of friendship, love, pain, loss, and the search for it.

One of the best parts of this book, and one of the reasons that it is such an appropriate read for Pride Month, is how well the authors depict a sizable cast of gay male teen characters in a post-coming out fashion. Just as Levithan describes his desire for his will to be “very much in the middle of things” (in the conversation between the authors at the end of the book), it felt like this was a deliberate move on the part of both Green and Levithan. We find many of the characters “in the middle of things.” This isn’t a book about inception, and it’s certainly not a book strictly about the coming out process of one gay character. In fact, I would say that the idea of coming out — of being true to oneself and true to those one loves most around themselves — extends beyond the gay characters to all the male characters of the book. It’s a beautiful process to witness and the authors do a fine job of creating characters you care about and root for.

My one main criticism would be that the female characters lack depth and act mostly as foils for the emotional development the W/will G/graysons and Tiny Cooper, Will Grayson’s best friend who plays a central role in both of the protagonists’ lives. If this were a TV show rather than a book, I would love some episodes about Jane and Maura. I left wanting to know more about both. What is Maura’s story, her point of view —  how/why did she do what she did?! What about Jane? How did she become so wise? For now, I’ll have to settle for writing Jane’s insights  about honesty and truth (p. 256) in my journal until the TV show/movie comes out…

will grayson, will grayson was a 2011 Odyssey Honor Audiobook and was previously mentioned in another post from The Hub.

— Cristina Mitra, currently downloading Ender’s Game audiobook to her iPod