First off, this audiobook was just fantastic, and I found myself sneaking away to listen to it every chance I got. It’s one of those books I can’t really imagine reading in print, because both narrators brought both Will Graysons vividly to life. I highly highly recommend it in that form. Even the songs scattered throughout were really well done and added to the heart and humor of the book.
The basic premise–two teenagers, both named Will Grayson, meet by chance in Chicago, setting up a series of events that affect both their lives–is a bit gimmicky, but who cares? For the most part, this book is a light, fun, fabulous, sometimes ridiculous musical romp. I laughed out loud. I chuckled. I was thoroughly entertained. There was definitely some seriousness to it–it wasn’t all fun and games–but it was just the right amount of seriousness, just enough to make the characters feel real, not enough to take away from the lovely campiness of it all.
I found David Levithan’s Will Grayson much more interesting than John Green’s–his voice was sharper and more distinct, but he also experienced a more profound transformation. But both narrators were so good that it ended up not mattering–it was a joy to listen to. Plus, Tiny Cooper, who happily appeared in every chapter, was a fantastic character, and he kept me thoroughly engaged with the story.
This book was on track to be pretty high up there on my list of fantastic and beautiful (mostly) fluff, right up until then end. The ending took it town several notches for me.
**SPOILERS FOLLOW** (Sorry, but there is no way to review this book honestly without them.)
Here’s what pissed me off: straight Will Grayson gets a happy ending for his love story–decisive, on screen, warm and fuzzy, satisfying. Gay Will Grayson gets a…maybe, sort-of-implied, definitely off screen (if at all), not decisive and not satisfying ending to his love story. I get that the book was about friendship and self love and the importance of non-romantic relationships. I loved that. I really appreciate YA that deals with non-romantic love, and how important and life-changing and affirming teenage friendships can be. But that just made me even angrier that Straight Will Grayson got that friendship and a happy love story, while gay Will Grayson only got the friendship.
I didn’t need for either of them to have a romantic happily-ever-after, but the fact that only the straight love story got resolved, for me, was glaring. It reinforced the idea that queer people can’t have everything, that we’ll always have less than straight people, that we should settle and be grateful. And the fact that gay Will Grayson’s implied-maybe-happy-ending didn’t get any actual words, but was left to the reader’s imagination, yet again relegated queer folks to the sidelines. The whole book ended with this dramatic on-stage musical climax with gay and fabulous Tiny Cooper front and center, and yet, it still felt like the queers got shortchanged.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson was fun and lighthearted. It was about friendship more than anything else. I am absolutely certain that the authors were trying to write an affirming, celebratory book about unconditional love and being true to yourself and having the courage to be fabulous, whatever that means to you.
But as soon as I started thinking about the differences in how the gay and straight love stories were handled, it was suddenly all I could think about, and the more I thought about it, the more angry it made me, and the book lost a lot of its sparkle. 95% of it was pretty damn sparkly, but it left me with this sad, uncomfortable feeling in my gut. It’s been a few days now, and I’m probably more annoyed about the whole thing than I should be. It just feel so frustratingly familiar.
If you’re looking for a hilarious, endearing, musical-theatre-powered romp through a few months in the lives of some Chicago teenagers, this is your book. But don’t expect the queer characters to get the same happy ending as the straight ones.