Friday, October 15, 2010

Review: Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan

Ah the collaborate book. Like non-english books that have passed through the hands of a translator I can never quite lose myself entirely in the story. Who wrote this bit? Whose idea was that bit?

Sometimes everything's all too mooshed together to really differentiate separate voices, like in Prachett/Gaimen’s Good Omens, but when the author's are kind enough to write alternating chapters it gets a little easier.

That’s what John Green and David Levithan do with Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Struggling in the shadow of his over the top best friend Will starts the book off, then we swap to adorably emo Will and then back again and so on so forth.

I immediately pegged the first Will as being written by John Green. (The urge to label the two as straight Will and gay Will is pretty strong, but I think it would be an insult to the book to reduce the characters down to one characteristic which in no way defines either of them, so we’ll stick with First Will and Second Will).
Having a few Green books under my belt now (only An Abundance of Katherines to go) I think I’m getting pretty good at picking his distinctive voice. Of David Levithan I am less well versed. The only book of his I’ve read is Boy Meets Boy and, without this delving into a review inside a review, I’ll just say that while the writing was good I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief enough to really enjoy the idealised nature of its setting. It was a all a bit too happy and sweet and rainbows and sunshine, you know?

So having decided that the First Will must be John Green’s Will (by the way, this is just my assumption and I could have it entirely wrong), then this made the Second Will Levithan’s creation. I was expecting someone like the overly happy hero of Boy Meets Boy, and it quickly became apparent that my expectations were way off the mark.

The Second Will quickly became my favourite. He’s a depressed, world hating little shit and by some miraculous feat of excellent writing he manages to not be at all annoying. Maybe the kid’s snarky sense of humour won't appeal to everyone, but it was definitely right up my alley. I also really liked the way his chapters were written, in a stream of consciousness zero punctuation kind of way. It’s the kind of stylistic choice that can fail spectacularly, but when it works, works really well. Here it works really well, and I loved the immediacy and emotional depth of the Second Will chapters.

I really liked First Will as well, but there was something a little too familair about him. I'm going to look pretty dumb if I'm wrong about which author wrote which Will, but First Will just screams John Green. His male protags are starting to feel like slight variations of the same guy, and while I love his writing too much to care a whole lot, it is food for thought that the two Levithan books I've read feature characters so wildly different, whereas Green's are not.

Enough character musing! The plot? Honestly, there’s not a lot of it there. Also honestly, the writing is so great that I didn’t care one little bit. A series of serendipitous results in Will Grayson 1 meeting Will Grayson 2 in a porn store. Will Grayson 2 immediately starts dating Will Grayson 1’s best friend, and Will Grayson 1 has some do I want to or not drama with this other girl. (And, assuming Green did write First Will’s stuff, then I am pleased to report that the girl, is not built in the Alaska/Margo mold which I had feared was all Green could do). More interestingly than the romance sub plot is the relationship between First Will and his best friend, which gets a real hammering.

Also, something happens to Second Will which, without a doubt, is the most awful thing I have ever seen happen to a YA character. It was horrifying, not in a serial killer/werewolf/vampire not real kind of way, but horrifying because it was so mind bogglingly awful and because having been a teenager myself once I knew how realistic it was. I felt sick for poor Second Will, and could barely bring myself to keep turning the pages.

As the book wraps up the David Levithan I met in Boy Meets Boy starts to shine through a little. Everything gets just a shade too unbelievably sweet, and things work out just a touch too well maybe. But it’s a small complaint to level at such an emotionally rich book with such well crafted and satisfying characters. Overall, a highly recommended read.

how did I get this book? bought it