Green, John, and Levithan, David. Will Grayson, Will Grayson (audiobook), performed by Andrews, MacLeod, and Podehl, Nick. Brilliance Audio, 2011. $49.97, ISBN: 978-1-45587-017-2
Plot: In this co-written book, John Green and David Levithan portray two teenage boys, Will Grayson, a bottled up kid whose main problem is his passivity, though he believes it to be his friend, an outsized gay football player named Tiny Cooper. The other will grayson (whose name isn’t capitalized in the book) is a hostile gay teen in a town about a mile away, who is roiling with anger and self-disgust over his father’s disappearance and his mother’s attempts to make things all right. Lowercase will’s only relief from pain is his relationship with Isaac, but their only interaction during the course of a year has been online.
When Isaac suggests that will meet him in the city and Tiny, Will, and Jane (Tiny’s friend) also go to Chicago to see a band at a club, Will Grayson meets will grayson, will grayson meets Tiny, Will Grayson starts having feelings for Jane, and their lives intertwine. There are romantic entanglements. Jane gets involved with an ex-boyfriend, to Will’s chagrin. Tiny and will develop a strong connection. And Tiny Cooper is about to fulfill his dream of staging a musical about his life. Eventually, Will has to come to grips with his over-the-top friend and will has to learn to love and trust again.
Critical Evaluation: John Green’s section is read by Nick Podehl, who captures Will Grayson’s reserved, good-guy charm, and Macleod Andrews takes on angry will. The narrators express the confusion and hurt of the characters and do a fantastic job of revealing the cracks in their hardened shells when the time comes. Tiny Cooper, voiced by Nick Podehl, has an infectious charm and listeners will laugh every time they hear his trademark “GRAYSON!!” The audiobook format is perfect for this book, since it is written by two different writers, and includes song snippets from Tiny’s musical, a listener can have a very rich experience.
As different as they are, both Wills have similar issues – an inability to reach out to someone else. Tiny Cooper, on the other hand, can’t stop reaching out. Levithan captures the anger and fear of his character while John Green infuses his section with his trademark philosophical probing about the nature of love and trust.
Reader’s Annotation: One Will Grayson feels stuck with a childhood friend, the huge and very gay football player Tiny Cooper; the other will’s only connection is with an Internet friend. When the two Wills meet, their lives will never be the same.
John Green -- Born in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1977, John Green grew up in Florida and then went to a boarding school in Alabama (inspiration for his acclaimed debut, Looking for Alaska, which was set in a boarding school).
Green, who majored in English lit and religious studies in college, became a chaplain at a children’s hospital, an experience which has, he says, informed every book that he has written. He has lived in Florida, Chicago, and New York. He currently lives in Indianapolis with his wife and toddler son.
David Levithan -- A native of New Jersey and graduate of Brown, David Levithan got involved with children’s literature when he landed an internship at Scholastic. He has worked there ever since; he’s now editorial director and the founder of the Push imprint, Scholastic’s foray into edgier YA books.
Boy Meets Boy began as an annual letter to friends, and it was lauded as a groundbreaking novel. Levithan collaborates with other YA writers (John Green and Rachel Cohn). He has won two Lambda literary awards.
Genre: Realistic fiction.
Curriculum Ties: N/A
Focus on the idea of a quiet kid stuck with a wild, outsized friend.
Play parts of the audio – such as the first paragraph or two in which Will grouses about being saddled with Tiny.
Focus on the difficulty both of these characters have in reaching out to others – the fear of stepping forward, trusting, taking a stand.
Reading Level: 5th grade
Interest Age: 14+
Challenge Issues: Although there are no graphic scenes, the many gay characters in the book would be disturbing for some.
Challenge Response: Know the content of the book; discuss the themes of the book.
Keep the book’s many positive reviews on hand.
Keep the authors’ bios on file – that both are very respected writers in the field, with Levithan working at Scholastic for years.
Why Included: This book was recommended by a teen librarian in the Burbank Public Library system.