Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Title: Will Grayson, Will Grayson
Author: David Levithan and John Green
Publisher: Penguin
Buy Link: Amazon.com
Genre: Contemporary, young adult 
Length: Novel/336 pb pages
Rating:  4.5 out of 5 stars

A guest review by Maddy Cain

Summary Review: Uniquely told story featuring fantastic teenage gay characters, but stumbles in the last few pages.


The Blurb:

One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, Will Grayson crosses paths with . . . Will Grayson. Two teens with the same name, running in two very different circles, suddenly find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, and culminating in epic turns-of-heart and the most fabulous musical ever to grace the high school stage. Told in alternating voices from two YA superstars, this collaborative novel features a double helping of the heart and humor that have won them both legions of fans.

The Review

It really hurts to give this book less than five stars. It is nearly physically painful to type that “4.5”  instead of  “5” for my overall rating, because 99% of the book is the best kind of fabulous that there is. It is only because the climactic moment in the last fifteen pages is so contrived, so unrealistic, so cliched and so off-putting that I’m knocking it down a half a star. Even with that ending, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. That being said, I almost stopped reading it at the second chapter…
Let me explain. The book is the story of two teenaged boys who do not know each other, both named Will Grayson, one straight, one gay.

John Green writes Straight Will Grayson (SWG), and David Levithan writes Gay Will Grayson (GWG). They alternate chapters, each writing their own Will Grayson’s first-person point of view. The leadoff chapter is Green, and I immediately fell in love with his style, his Grayson, but mostly with the character who’s arguably more central than either of the Wills, namely SWG’s gay best friend, Tiny Cooper, who is possibly the awesomest gay character I’ve ever read. He’s a huge, hulking football player who is fabulously, openly gay and real in a way that transcends stereotype. Tiny is searching for love while he tries to get the school to finance a production of Tiny Dancer, the stage musical he’s written about his life. Green seems to be writing from inside my own head. He’s drawing his cultural vocabulary from the same sources that I do, even using some of my own personal favorite non-words like “confuzzled,” and this made me feel comfortable in his prose immediately.

Then…the second chapter. The first of Levithan’s chapters featuring Gay Will Grayson. His sections are written in a no-caps, alternative-punctuation style that annoyed me right away, and GWG is the most irritating, stereotypical Emo Goth Kid imaginable, with the detachment and the clinical depression and the woe, betide. I nearly didn’t make it through. But I wanted to get back to SWG and Tiny Cooper so badly that I kept reading.

Then this amazing thing happened. GWG got better. I don’t mean to say that he became less emo, but his self-expression became more layered. Then, something truly awful happens to him, and this awful thing leads him to finally meet SWG and Tiny Cooper, and somehow I found myself liking GWG as well. He and Tiny make a stab at having a relationship, while Tiny tries to make SWG abandon his self-imposed detachment (read: defense mechanism) long enough to date their cute friend Jane. Tiny gets the funding for his musical, and things escalate from there. GWG makes a gay friend at his high school and starts finding out what life can feel like when you live it honestly, and when you allow for the possibility of good things happening to you.

I can’t say too much about what put me off so badly about the ending without spoiling you. It was logistically not believable, first of all, it wasn’t thematically fitting, second, and it was too over-the-top and feel-good for a book that had been pretty fiercely dedicated to truthfulness up to that point. It’s like they took the “And I’m gay!” ending to the movie In & Out and dialed it up to eleven.

But that isn’t enough to make me not recommend the book. I loved it, and the characters are fantastic, especially Tiny Cooper, the very model of a modern gay teenager and somebody we’ve never seen before on the page.  A unique creation, both character and novel, and a great read.  As a young-adult title, there isn’t any sex (just some kissing) but a fair amount of sex-referencing and R-rated language.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson has been reissued and  is available in both paperback and ebook on April 5, 2011



    • Come to think of it, I think I read about this book last year when it came out and I wrote the author asking about an ebook version. I’m glad to see there is one, at last!


  • Hi Maddy,

    I read this book last year and fell in love with Tiny, who is a great character. I liked the book, and I agree about the ending, though I loved the parts of the play before the spoiler moment.

    Most of all I loved how much they love Neutral Milk Hotel! I can’t tell you how many times I heard rumors of Jeff Mangum playing a secret show in Brooklyn. Sadly, they were never true and never will be. But hipster kids around the world will always wait!

    • I loooooved the play, Cole! I want this to be a movie just so we can see the play staged. And I was excited by all the Neutral Milk Hotel references, too! And at one point somebody uses the word “frak!” It’s like the authors are drawing from my own personal pop culture lexicon.

  • Oooooohhhh! This is in the Berkeley Public Library in both print and audio! I am so excited, I am so getting it. Thanks for bringing it our attention, Maddy, in a great review. This is just up my alley.

      • Okay, I finished this last night and I LOVED IT! I totally agree with your review, including your feelings about the ending, which, well, you said it. Incredible. And I agree that this should DEFINITELY be made into a movie — it just screams Big Screen. Thanks Maddy.

  • I listened to the audio version of this book, and it was amazing. There is a different reader for each Will Grayson, and the production value is great.
    Yes, the ending is a little corny, but I loved it.

  • Maddy
    Thank you so much for this. Of course I’m going to buy this book because my curiosity is peaked about the ending. 🙁 Also the story seems to have a lot going for it.

    I’ll let you know what I think after I get my hands on the book after April 5. 🙂

    • I meant to ask you about that…I’m fairly sure the book is available now and has been for awhile. I mean, I got it from the library in hardcover. I think it’s just the paperback that comes out on the 5th.

      • It’s been reissued according to Amazon and the Penguin site, in paperback and ebooks. I don’t know if the text has been updated, but the ebooks are definitely new.

  • I borrowed this book from the library but never read it. :blush: I shall rectify this immediately. Thanks for the review.


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