See, I’m no John Green fan. I’ll come right out and say it: I dislike the topics he writes about. Don’t say I never tried – I’ve read Paper Towns, An Abundance of Katherines and attempted The Fault in Our Stars. The last didn’t turn out well because I got annoyed at the main character about two pages in, and ragequitted when she kept whining about the world and her life.
But this isn’t about my inability to stomach John Green even though I’m of the opinion that his writing’s hella pretentious. This is about Will Grayson, Will Grayson, a novel that manages to transcend my dislike for one of its two authors by 1) having absurdly good characters 2) having David Levithan on board WHOM I LOVE 3) somehow avoiding Green’s pitfall of the edgy, whiny, teenage protagonist.
In fact, point 3 may just be the most important of all. I’ll get to that.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a tale of two Graysons named Will. A coincidental run-in with each other at a porn store (long story) leads the reader into both their lives, traversing the crossroads where their narratives overlap at intervals throughout the novel. Both sides (usually) run separately but are occasionally connected by the presence of one very large Tiny Cooper, whose existence reeks of FABULOUS MAX.
It’s a story fundamentally about love, and what it means to love another person. The book’s message is its strongest point – when one talks of ‘love’, what does one mean? Romantic love? Platonic love? Familial love? Love comes in many forms, and so do the people by whom it is transmitted.
True to its vast topic, the characters are as vivid and as mercurial as love itself. Will Grayson is almost the average John Green protagonist – kind of witty, kind of nerdy, the ‘ordinary’ guy. Jane Turner, his love interest, is surprisingly unlike the average John Green girl. Down to earth, relaxed and with a great sense of humor, she thankfully never comes across as condescending as the “I’m popular and I do edgy hip things” archetype often present in Green’s tales. Last but not least from his side of the book is Tiny Cooper – president of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, gayer than a parade and with a knack for falling in love then getting out of it just as fast.
David Levithan’s half of the story is much simpler. will grayson is the troubled one, the ‘messed up’ and depressed child who has to learn the hard way how to interact with people. This will presents himself in lowercase in every chapter that Levithan’s in charge of. He’s got a narrow view of the world and a rocky relationship with his mother. His only brief reprise is his time spent with his online boyfriend. The only other person from Levithan’s half is an equally troubled problem-child named Maura, who acts on her own in the name of her one-sided crush on this grayson.
The comparison between the two is like having trucks collide in midair, exploding into a burst of fire and stars. Intense, crazy, and sometimes completely unexpected – Will Grayson, Will Grayson presents to the reader teenage angst and drama at its finest. I wasn’t expecting Green to maintain his constant wit without being grating, nor was I anticipating something so angry and sad from Levithan, who writes so many stories about sentimentality and love. I enjoyed Green’s half better than Levithan’s, when I’d expected it to be the other way around.
To avoid spoilers for the book – which is excellent – I’ll keep it short from here on.
“Maybe there’s something you’re afraid to say, or someone you’re afraid to love, or somewhere you’re afraid to go. It’s gonna hurt. It’s gonna hurt because it matters.”
The two Graysons have to continuously deal with the high points and immense disappointments their love lives have to offer. The book reminds us that many opportunities are what you make out them, and love is, in fact, all around us – if we care enough to look. This is what Will learns when he finally chooses to step out of his given role as the ‘ordinary observer’. This is also what will has to confront, when he begins to assess the mess he’s made out of his own life. And that’s exactly what begins to repair the mistakes both of them have made – after acknowledging their faults, both Graysons are able to move forward albeit in different ways.
Each and every character finally converges around Tiny Cooper. Will’s best friend and eventual boyfriend of the other will, Tiny forms the central focal point of the book’s message. Huge in body and heart, he’s got a lot of it to give in his endless pursuit for romance. At the same time, his bossy attitude causes a ton of inconvenience for both Graysons, which they respond to in kind.
Tiny makes the two Graysons question the nature of love as an emotion. Is love something you should restrict to romantic pursuit? The book gives us a conclusive answer: No.
There’s a reason why “significant others” is a phrase for people closeby that matter to you, not just romantic partners. I’m weary of books that place romance as the ultimatum. I’m tired of talks of romantic relationships, when there are so many other equally (or more) important people around. Love is something much wider than this narrow definition most authors have shoehorned themselves into.
MINOR? SPOILER NOTICE. One of my favorite portions of the book happens when Green’s Grayson is able to tell Tiny that he loves him. This Grayson is in a heterosexual relationship and without hesitation, tells his gay best friend that he loves him for who he is. And this is so important. It doesn’t matter what your romantic status or preferences are. They aren’t a determinant in loving your friends and family. END SPOILER.
For all the faults of their loved ones, both Graysons learn how to appreciate them – something neither of them started off being good at. This is why I loved reading Will Grayson, Will Grayson so much. It’s a book that acknowledges something other books tend to leave out: that love is for everyone, and your non-romantic relationships matter.