There are a lot of things that I just don’t understand why other people like them: Justin Beiber, Justin Beiber’s music, Justin Bieber’s hair, Game of Thrones. Unfortunately (I genuinely mean that, I am genuinely disappointed that I didn’t like this book more), I am adding Will Grayson, Will Grayson to the list.
The novel is narrated in alternate chapters by Will Grayson #1 and Will Grayson #2 (thus the title), two teenage boys struggling through their formative high school years. Will Grayson #1 is straight, single and attempting not to care about anything as a means of protecting himself from getting hurt. Will Grayson #2 is gay, desperately in love with his internet boyfriend and managing his depression diagnosis with medication and his mother’s help.
Perhaps a little strangely then, this isn’t actually Will Grayson’s story. It’s not even the other Will Grayson’s story. Both Wills are just supporting characters in a tale about the overweight, gay football player and musical enthusiast, Tiny Cooper. Tiny is Will Grayson #1’s best friend and Will Grayson #2’s potential love interest.
Still the blurb focuses misleadingly on how the two Will Graysons meet each other and discover they share the same name (and not much else). But Will Grayson and the other Will Grayson don’t actually meet until page 110. Anyone who has ever read my book reviews before will know I like to call this sort of thing a writer’s trick. Because the reader spends 109 pages wondering how long it will be before the promised meeting takes place. When it finally does, the two Wills spend less than one evening together before they go their separate ways, pretty much for the rest of the book.
Neither Will Grayson is especially interesting. Tiny Cooper is interesting. But because the story – his story – isn’t told from his point of view, we don’t get to see a lot of him. And the parts we do see are stereotypically flamboyant gayness. The issues he is struggling with – including weight, social acceptance, homosexuality in the locker room, relationships (both platonic and romantic) – are glossed over.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a concept book. The two authors started out with a very simple idea – two teenage boys with the same name – and decided to see where it would take them. They each wrote a first chapter introducing their Will Grayson and then got together to compare notes. John Green’s effort became the first chapter and David Levithan’s became the second chapter. And they continued writing their own Will Graysons and then meshing the story together.
I don’t know if that’s why there’s almost no plot, but there isn’t. I think that they simply got caught up in the concept, forgetting that while the concept was exciting for them as they wrote it, it wouldn’t translate by the time the readers had the chance to read it. So with almost no plot and narration by two not-very-interesting characters, it’s up to the writing to save the book. It’s an impossible ask. Because the writing is wonderful. But it’s just not enough.
There’s one last thing that can sometimes turn around the perception of a book and that’s a big twisty, didn’t-see-it-coming, poetic perfect ending. And because it’s a John Green book (at least partially), I was expecting a big, meaningful finish. Instead, it was cheesy and not great.
When I reviewed John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, I mentioned the pages and pages of enthusiastic recommendations from newspapers and literary journals the publisher had included on the cover of the book and how when a book is so highly recommended, I become very sceptical. But because I read and loved The Fault in Our Stars, I wasn’t as sceptical this time. I wish I had been. Instead of being sceptical, I was disappointed instead. I’d take low expectations and a pleasant surprise over high expectations and a sad disappointment any day.
In a word: meh.
*First published on Goodreads 7 November 2016