This was my “a random book” selection for the Books on the Nightstand Book Bingo. I even closed my eyes. I had intended to read it for Banned Books Week back in September, but that fell while we were on holiday and I read all of half a book all week. I’m glad I came up with another excuse to read it before too long as it’s a really lovely book.
The premise sounds a little odd, so don’t let this put you off. Two teenage boys called Will Grayson meet by chance in a Chicago porn shop. The chapters are alternately narrated by the two Wills, and are written alternately by John Green and David Levithan, two big names in young adult fiction.
The first Will we meet is best friends with Tiny Cooper, who is not just gay but ostentatiously super-camp – so camp that he’s writing a musical about his own life that he wants the high school to help him produce. Will has lost some friends over standing by this friendship and is feeling anxious about that, but he still has Tiny’s friends from the Gay–Straight Alliance – Gary, Nick and Jane – to hang out with, even if he is possibly the only straight one in the alliance (he’s not sure about Jane).
“And everything goes perfectly on the way there. Traffic’s not too bad on Sheridan, and I’m cornering the car like it’s the Indy 500, and we’re listening to my favourite NMH song, ‘Holland, 1945’, and then onto Lake Shore Drive, the waves of Lake Michigan crashing against the boulders by the Drive, the windows cracked to get the car to defrost, the dirty, bracing, cold air rushing in, and I love the way Chicago smells – Chicago is brackish lake water and soot and sweat and grease and I love it, and I love this song, and Tiny’s saying I love this song, and he’s got the visor down so he can muss up his hair a little more expertly…My face seems too square and my eyes too big, like I’m perpetually surprised, but there’s nothing wrong with me that I can fix.”
The second Will has depression, but he’s dealing with it, and he’s gay but he doesn’t want anyone to know that – not because he’s ashamed of it but because it’s no-one else’s business. This is putting a serious strain on the only real friendship he has, with Maura, because she really really wants him to admit it. But he does have Isaac to chat with online and that gets him through the day.
Both stories are told with humour and realism. They have serious stuff to contend with and there are dark moments, but this isn’t overall a dark book. It has some romantic storylines but for the most part it’s about friendship, which, after all, tends to last longer when you’re 16.
“i do not say ‘good-bye’. i believe that’s one of the bullshittiest words ever invented. it’s not like you’re given the choice to say ‘bad-bye’ or ‘awful-bye’ or ‘couldn’t-care-less-about-you-bye’. every time you leave, it’s supposed to be a good one. well, i don’t believe in that. i believe against that.”
It’s a beautifully told, just the right level of sentimental, relatable story because the big issues here are universal ones: anxiety, self-awareness, honesty. It’s great to read a book with gay teenage characters in which their being gay isn’t a big deal (or not for the most part, at least; there is a little name-calling). And ditto depression – Will has his medication and his coping mechanisms long before the book opens.
This was an enjoyable quick read. Maybe I’ll finally give in and read The Fault in Our Stars and other titles by these authors.
Published 2010 by Dutton Books.
Source: Charity shop.