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

It’s disappointing when high expectations for a book aren’t met. That’s been my experience reading both John Green and David Levithan, two authors who are well-respected in the field of young adult literature. Though Will Grayson, Will Grayson was entertaining, and I see the merits, it was not one of my favorite books.

WIll Grayson, Will Grayson

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan 

Published: April 6th 2010 by Dutton Children’s/Penguin

Source: local library (audiobook)

Synopsis (Goodreads): One cold night, in a most unlikely corner of Chicago, two teens—both named Will Grayson—are about to cross paths. As their worlds collide and intertwine, the Will Graysons find their lives going in new and unexpected directions, building toward romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most fabulous high school musical.

Hilarious, poignant, and deeply insightful, John Green and David Levithan’s collaborative novel is brimming with a double helping of the heart and humor that have won both of them legions of faithful fans.

My thoughts:

In theory, I should love John Green and David Levithan. I like contemporary YA, especially if it features LGBTQ characters and is smartly written. But I’ve abandoned two of Levithan’s books I had anticipated loving: Love is the Higher Law, about teens in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, and Wide Awake, which is set against a Kansas governor demanding a recount in an attempt to invalidate the election of the first gay, Jewish President. I’m extremely interested in YA set against the events of September 11, yet found Levithan’s novel contrived. My undergraduate degree was in Political Science and from the University of Kansas, and I’ve been a liberal active in Kansas politics since I was a teenager, and I just didn’t find the way Levithan portrayed Kansas politics authentic. Granted, I didn’t get very far in either novel before being turned off, so I can’t really speak with authority about either book. But for whatever reason, Levithan’s work hasn’t resonated with me. I still very much respect his work and find him intelligent and articulate as a person, but I can’t say I’m a huge fan.

I’ve previously listened to Looking for Alaska, which I thought was good, but it didn’t wow me (you can read my review here). I greatly admire John Green as a person. He’s smart and funny and does amazing things to get teens reading and he just comes off as incredibly authentic and infectiously enthusiastic. But I just don’t fall in love with his books the way I expect myself to.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is one of the least realistic “realistic” young adult novels I’ve read. Green and Levithan have a lovely way with words, but their dialogue just doesn’t reflect the way Real Actual Teens talk—even smart, articulate ones (well, except for maybe the prolific and well-timed profanity, which sounds authentic). And while this results in lovely quotes that look fantastic in tumblr fanart, when reading (or in this case, listening) it makes me too aware of being in the story to suspend disbelief.

And if we want to talk realistic? The idea of a teen writing and staging an autobiographical musical funded by the school but without any faculty/staff supervision is just ridiculous. And seriously, how did Tiny Cooper pull that off? Writing lyrics is one thing, but the music? Who performed or recorded the accompaniment? It’s just so…contrived. And don’t even get me started on the striking coincidence of meeting another boy with your same name in a Chicago porn shop (I’ve also spent considerable time in downtown Chicago, and am confused on exactly where Frankie’s was if it was in walking distance of the Bean in Millennium Park.)

I can definitely see how this book appeals to teens, despite my complaints about the unrealistic plot device and dialogue. While as an adult, I wanted just shake both Will Graysons, as a Real Actual Teen, I would have totally related to gay Will’s depression and straight Will’s fear and inaction. Tiny Cooper is equal parts infuriating and endearing, and I really adored Jane’s smart quips. Yet the character I was most interested in—Maura—was the least developed. Gay Will’s begrudging friendship with her didn’t make much sense, and her betrayal was never really fleshed out. What made her tick? Why did she do what she did? I was left disappointed in that regard. She felt more like a plot device than a fully formed character.

I’ll read more John Green and David Levithan, I’m sure, but I’m not sure that I’ll ever feel the way about these beloved authors as their very hardcore fans do. I understand their appeal, but they just miss my personal sweet spot as a reader. I will say that this is one of my all-time favorite YA covers ever. The bokeh lights are perfect for the story, visually interesting, and eye-catching.

Second opinions:

Lauren at Books that Smolder (Lauren is a Real Actual Teen in my book club at the library): “My favorite part about this book was its relevance. The book dealt with issues that need to be discussed and written about in a way that teenagers and adults can understand. Things like friendship, sexuality, depression, love, and ultimately unity through these things. I’ve been really into this concept lately. The concept that one person has the power to break down walls with a sledgehammer and create unity throughout the world.”

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5 thoughts on “Audiobook Review: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

  1. I haven’t read anything by Levithan and though I love John Green I haven’t read this one yet. It can be annoying when dialogue doesn’t work right. Did you know him and Rainbow Rowell are coming to Kansas City library on November 16th?

    1. Yeah, I am just so ambivalent about all of their books I’ve read. It’s weird.

      I did know! I’m going with the programs librarian and youth services manager from work because my job is awesome and thinks that paying for me to go hang out with cool YA authors is a great idea. So excited! I think John Green is so inspiring as a person, and I totally adore Rainbow Rowell.

  2. I think most people have a love/hate relationship with Levithan. I quite like his books, but I know people who don’t, so I totally get it. While I really enjoyed WG/WG, I get your points. It is far-fetched quite a bit (there SHOULD have been faculty supervision-ha!) and verbose, but I think that’s what I liked about it. I liked that, though it is realistic contemporary, it had a bit of magic to it. I think reading it, teens like the super exaggerated-ness of it. Kind of like Boy Meets Boy. Realistic novel in a super imagined (“ideal”) contemporary environment.

    That said, I can see it not being for everyone. (Like John Green. I quite like his books, but I know people who are frustrated by his teen dialogue. Personal preference, right?)

    Oh, and believe it or not, I had a friend in high school who wrote his own musical with accompanying music. It can be done! ;)

    1. I can totally see the appeal of “realistic” fiction that has an element of magic in it or feels larger than life.

      And I am completely on board with a high school student writing a musical…it just didn’t seem real because we never see Tiny working on it on the page or are really introduced to his background in music. This could be an issue with the perspective, though, since we only hear from WG/WG.

      I just ordered THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, so we’ll see if that one resonates with me…

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