Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

6567017Will Grayson, Will Grayson is only my second run in with John Green and my first with David Levithan.  I’ve been rec’d this book so many times that it’s shameful how long it has sat on my shelves neglected.  To be honest, I’m trying to space my John Green reading experiences out a bit since I’ve heard he writes the exact same characters over and over again.  He does them well, though, so I’m willing to overlook the redundancy.

In this particular story, Green and Levithan alternate chapters.  Each author writes from the perspective of one Will Grayson – yes, there are two (hence the title).  Basically, two high school students from the Chicagoland area meet randomly in a porn shop one night and discover they share the same name.  Their lives become intertwined through their mutual friendship with Tiny Cooper, a very large and very gay teen writing a musical based on his life.

This novel was a decent YA read and probably on my top 5 favorite YA reads for 2012.  I much preferred John Green’s Will Grayson which shocked me, especially considering the two characters are not wildly different.  At times, the only way I could tell them apart was that Levithan chose to write in all lowercase.  Levithan’s Will just was so dark, depressed, and hard to grasp as a well-rounded character.  I do appreciate his look into a kid struggling with clinical depression, especially a young man.  We don’t often get that perspective.  Also, Levithan’s Will made me laugh out loud several times.  Yay for the sarcasm!

What worked for Will Grayson, Will Grayson was, in fact, not a Will Grayson at all, but a Tiny Cooper.  I loved Tiny’s character and all the ways he met and didn’t meet gay stereotypes.  He shines throughout the entire novel, even in his cheesiest moment of triumph when his musical is finally staged.  He was also a beacon of shining light, humor, and hope which added a much needed brightness to the seriously negative natures of the two Graysons.

As you might have expected from the simple summary, there isn’t much plot in this story.  Definitely character driven which I find missing in YA literature in general.  In that respect, Green and Levithan both exceed in transcending the genre and writing a book about the young human spirit and real life challenges young adults face day-in and day-out.  They write characters that kids can see themselves in and can learn from.  And we adults can learn to understand the teenagers of today and how better to communicate with them – and even our own young selves.

My only problem was the incredible silliness of the end.  Not so much the musical itself, but the crowd’s reaction and the scheme Levithan’s Will Grayson manages to pull off.  Way over the top and completely unbelievable which didn’t seem appropriate for a novel so grounded in reality and honesty.  Not enough to dissuade me from liking the book overall, nor enough to keep me from recommending it to you fine folks!

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

This book has been reviewed across the interwebs probably thousands of times.  People are John Green obsessed – if the voting age were lowered, John Green would become President and brother Hank would obviously be VP.  With all the hype, I was nervous to read anything by Green, but decided to give his latest and most beloved novel a chance.  After all, he’s won the Printz once and has been Printz honored a second time.  The crazy buzz can’t all be for nothing, right?

The Fault in Our Stars introduces us to Hazel and Augustus, teenagers living the unfortunate reality of cancer.  Hazel’s been diagnosed terminal although a miracle drug has lengthened her life and Augustus has been in remission for one year.  They meet at a support group, feel an instant attachment, and then proceed to fall in love and live life in the face of death.

I don’t know where to start or how to articulate how I feel about this book.  Initially, blinded by tears shortly after finishing the novel, I rated the book a 5-star read.  As my emotions settled, I removed one star and ever since that demotion I’ve felt an urge to lessen the rating again to a final 3-star rating.  What this means is that TFiOS will pummel you emotionally – I flipped the pages quickly, laughing and crying along with the characters, desperately needing to know how things turned out.  Hazel’s voice was fresh, hip, and upbeat despite the odds against her and Augustus was charming, sexy, and smart – together they are literary gold for teenagers so the appeal is obvious.  And throughout most of the novel, cancer took a backstage to teenage love infused with a healthy young snark.  And even when ALL THE SAD THINGS happened, I found myself smiling through devastation thankful to have Hazel, Augustus, their parents, and friends in my life.

BUT.  See that but there?  I had a major problem with TFiOS, perhaps two major problems.  John Green is just too accessible.  His Vlog Brothers videos on youtube, while entertaining and slightly addicting, give such person to his authorship that I was  hardly ever able to separate John’s voice from his characters.  Instead of Hazel’s snarky remark, I heard John Green’s snarky remark.  This happened far too many times and definitely took me out of the story.  The voices were authentic, just authentically John Green’s.  Not John’s fault, but inevitable when you are so EVERYWHERE.  I feel a bit nasty for lowering my star rating over this, but the truth must be had – plus, this review won’t in any stretch of the imagination hurt his book sales so guilt is lame.

In correlation with the John Green voice fiasco, I had another problem with the voice.  I completely get that teenagers can be brilliant and shouldn’t be talked down to in YA.  But teenagers can still sound like teenagers without compromising the integrity of the writing and characterizations.  I grew up a smart kid with lots of smart kid friends and we didn’t talk like this – we didn’t use big words in all our sentences and drown ourselves in sarcastic existential metaphors for fun.  Sure, we believed we knew more than everyone else on the planet, but we showed this through fights with our parents and rebelliousness – not memorizing all the great poems of the 20th century.  Not that some teenagers didn’t do this – I’m sure there’s a healthy number of kids with Prufrock memorized, but they don’t all live in the same town in Indianapolis, have cancer, and become the best of friends.  So, for me, TFiOS suffers from Dawson’s disease.  That’s right, I just referenced Dawson’s Creek.

Okay – I’ve babbled on for far too long.  I recommend reading The Fault in Our Stars to anyone – young or adult.  There’s a lot to enjoy with Green’s writing and his references to Shakespeare, The Great Gatsby, and Catcher in the Rye make the English Nerd inside of me extremely happy.  This book is not bad, just suffers under Green’s ubiquitous nature – I needed more separation of Church and State.  I also look forward to reading John’s other books in the future and continue to believe in the Nerd Fighting Nation.