Monday, May 17, 2010

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

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Unlike other "international" action days, judging by their website this truly is an international event, with leaders in the EU recognizing today, rather than being an American-based project that welcomes participation from overseas. Yeah internationalism! I figured there was no better way to promote a day defending against hatred than highlighting a book that is about love in all of its forms.

Will Grayson has been best friends since 5th grade with Tiny Cooper - who is either the world's largest gay man or the gayest man in the world who is large (the name is ironic). While Will would prefer nothing more than to blend into the woodwork (his two life rules are 1. don't care and 2. shut up), with Tiny around that is effectively impossible. Tiny falls in love approximately once an hour, is determined that Will should be in love too, and is writing an epic musical about his life: Tiny Dancer: the Tiny Cooper Story.

On the other side of Chicago lives another will grayson, who writes all in lower case as a sign of his existential angst (or an easy way to tell the alternating Wills apart if you're cynical). will is gay, though about as closeted as Tiny is out. He has only one friend in real life, the extremely fragile and manipulative Maura, but online an epic romance is blossoming with a boy named Isaac. will's life looks like it may finally be looking up when he and Isaac decide to meet in Chicago.

Once in Chicago, will doesn't find the boy he was looking for - instead running into his namesake, Will Grayson, and being absorbed into the orbit of Tiny Cooper whether he wants to be or not. What follows is an adventure almost as epic as Tiny Dancer about the meaning of life, friendship, and love, platonic and romantic and everything in between.

First of all, I demand that the libretto of Tiny Dancer be released in full. I don't care whether it's only released as an e-book or maybe Green & Levithan could write it for charity a la JK Rowling and her Hogwarts school books, but Tiny Dancer is clearly a masterpiece that deserves its day in the sun. Also I have to thank Green & Levithan for giving me a book that so clearly shows what it's like to be in theatre without making me sit through Shakespeare.

Tiny Cooper is seriously a revelation as a character. Rarely do we meet someone who is love with life but also has deeper layers that are revealed as the story goes on. At first it looks like Tiny is going to be on big (sorry) stereotype, jolly and partying and breaking out into song at the drop of a hat, but it's clear even before we get to see Tiny Dancer that there's a lot more to Tiny than being fabulous. Part of me wants to see a book about him, but in a way Will Grayson, Will Grayson already is, as he's such a major catalyst in the lives of everyone around him - and it's clear they affect him as well (a true sign that someone is more than just a caricature).

While on the one hand having will grayson write all in lower case seems like a cheap and easy way to differentiate the two Wills, the way the two boys talk and think is really what makes the alternating chapters work. Just a few sentences into the first will grayson chapter made me feel like all the air had been sucked out of the room (or subway car, as it were). Will Grayson seems to love life in comparison to will. will can get a bit "woe is me" dramatic at times, but so can Will, and if you can't be melodramatic at 16, when can you be?

As I said above, this is a novel that is about love. There are hookups and breakups throughout the story, and those are certainly a type of love, but really this story is about the type of love that binds people together, whether you want to be or not. After you've been through a lifetime of ups and downs (or even if it only feels like it's been a lifetime), you develop a bond with another person that can't be broken easily. I couldn't help but grin when Will would declare that he loves Tiny (in a totally platonic sense) because we don't see people (especially boys) talk about their friends and family in such a way very often. I've said this is why I love the show Glee, because every time Kurt's dad shows up we're guaranteed at least one "I love you" that you don't really see anywhere else - on what other TV show do you have a father and son who will hug each other and cry and talk explicitly about their feelings? Will and will and Tiny never get quite to that point, but there is a lot of open talk about love, which is absolutely the message the world needs to hear.

GLBT Challenge

1 comment:

Melissa said...

I think you had something to add. ;-) I agree: I enjoyed the fact that this was about love, in all its forms, and that it was so happily, so blatantly out there. And, while I think David Leviathan's better at writing songs than John Green, I, too, would love to see the rest of the musical!

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