I found will grayson will grayson, written by John Green and David Levithan in the backseat pocket of our Honda Odyssey when I was cleaning out the van. It belonged to one of our kids’, left over from a 12-hour road trip to Ocracoke Island in North Carolina, I’m sure, but forfeited in favor of half a dozen DVDs because watching is easier than reading and you don’t get car sick. Who knows how long it had been there, its pages dog-eared, the corners of the cover curling as if it had experienced water damage (a damp beach towel, perhaps?).
The last of our tribe went off to college this fall so I’m pretty sure no one is going to want to read this book any time soon given the demands of a full-time college schedule and the fact that their tastes no longer run toward the YA novel. Yet I, never one to let a book pass through my fingers without at least a whiff of a few paragraphs inside, was delighted by not only the words, but the concept: two random strangers meet through a series of bizarre events to discover they have not only the same name, but in some weird, abstruse analysis, the same kinds of problems. Since I myself was about to take a trip, I stuck it in my bag for the plane ride and ended up finishing it before I returned home.
You wouldn’t think that a YA novel would have much to say to an adult and recent empty nester, but you’d be wrong. will grayson will grayson was fabulous, full of witticisms and criticisms about life, love, relationships, each other, and all the things that make a good book great. Also, as a writer, I got to study plot and pacing from two different viewpoints (interestingly, both Green and Levithan were on the cusp of great success when they wrote this book). Diversity and inclusion, mental health, and being a gay man in a homophobic world are just a few of the big topics this writing duo tackles with humor, grace and resourcefulness. The result is heartfelt and satisfying.
will grayson (1) is a smart kid with two parents, a good home, and an aversion to getting involved with anything and anyone, but makes an exception for his best friend, Tiny Cooper, a giant of a kid/man who is gay and proud of it. will stuck up for Tiny once in a letter to the editor and because of the attention it garnered him, he’s been kicking his own ass ever since. will grayson (2) is a smart, but lonely kid, (really, isn’t that true of all high school kids on some level?) with divorced parents, a mom who struggles to keep it all together financially and emotionally, an absentee dad, and a diagnosis of depression. Oh, and he’s gay which adds to his difficulty in navigating life’s vicissitudes.
Green and Levithan wrote the book each from the perspective of their own will graysons and that alone kept it fresh and surprising, both for the reader and the writer. In addition to will grayson will grayson, both are prolific YA novelists: Green wrote The Fault in our Stars and Looking for Alaska while Levithan wrote Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, among others.
If you want a bit of insight into the minds of today’s high schoolers or simply a walk down memory lane — because a parallel experience is a parallel experience and high school remains the same no matter what decade we are living in — then read will grayson will grayson.