This was one of my first reactions to Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which takes place throughout my beloved Chicagoland (but was written by two authors who are not Chicagoans, unfortunately for them). I remembered that I do not read contemporary young adult novels because they make me feel very old and stodgy. Dusty. This book was no exception. This is not the high school that I experienced.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson is ostensibly about two high school boys with the same name, but really, I think the book should have been called Tiny Dancer: The Tiny Cooper Story because the book was all about him, not the Wills. Will Grayson the First lives a pretty ritzy life on the North Shore, gets really good grades, is best friends with the fabulously gay Tiny Cooper and is perhaps attracted to this girl Jane, but he doesn't let himself find out for sure for a while because his two rules are 1. Don't care too much and 2. Shut up. (I bet you can tell where his story goes in this book.) Will Grayson the Second lives in Naperville (also a very ritzy suburb on the west side, though this Will Grayson is not wealthy) with his mom. His dad left some time ago, Will battles depression, doesn't believe in capitalization, is pseudo-best friends with Goth girl Maura who is in love with him, but he doesn't love her because he is in love with his online friend Isaac.
Will Grayson the First meets Will Grayson the Second at a porn shop in Chicago, serendipitously, introduces him to Tiny Cooper, and then their lives begin to intertwine.
Only they don't, really. You would think that in a book that is titled after two characters with the same name, that the book would be about the two of them and their relationship with each other, but really the book is about each Will's separate lives and the only overlap is Tiny Cooper, who really dominates the story.
I liked Will Grayson the First, in that he wrote with proper punctuation, seemed pretty well-adjusted, had some quality one-liner, and asked girls questions about physics. He was a pretty typical guy (except for the physics questions). But in many ways, he wasn't fully realized for me. For example, his two rules of not caring and shutting up- we hear about them a lot, but I have no idea why he is so shut off from people. From what I can tell, he has some really great parents, a very supportive (if self-absorbed) best friend, and generally does pretty well for himself. So why is he so angst-y? Is it just general teenage angst or did something happen in his past? We never find out. And it turns out not to matter because his story goes exactly the way you think it's going to go, and you can rest easy knowing that Will Grayson the First will probably become an excellent surgeon and set his fabulous life to an awesome indie rock band soundtrack.
Will Grayson the Second was more interesting, but his life seemed to be defined by other people. First by Isaac, who he was so in love with for so long, and then, very abruptly, he switches completely to Tiny Cooper, who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. And then out of nowhere, Will Grayson the Second seems to have a sort of epiphany of realizing I Must Be My Own Man, which is great, but how did he get to that point? I don't know! It is possible I missed something. There was a scene involving a swingset in which a lot of stuff went down that I don't fully know if I understood. But it seemed to me like Will Grayson the Second had this amazing, confidence-boosting, individualistic moment and I was not there to see it, and that made me sad.
The thread between these two stories was this third character, Tiny Cooper, who is a huge marshmallow of gay pride and really, really dominates the storyline with his personality. He is a fabulous character, and his story should be told, but not in a book called Will Grayson, Will Grayson, in my opinion. Particularly at the end of the book, I felt like the focus of the book shifted to be not on either of the Will Graysons, but on Tiny and his influence and effect on so many people through the story. Very "Tiny Cooper, This is YOUR Life!" Which I am sure was very moving and wonderful for him, but it really took the emphasis away from the Will Graysons. I suppose it is very realistic that much of high school can be spent in the shadow of a more dominant person, but that doesn't mean that the quieter and smaller people can't have moments of triumph just to themselves, too, and I feel that the book's ending really overpowered these moments for the Wills.
That said, this read was entertaining, not least because it fed my love of Chicago with lines like this:
Traffic's not too bad on Sheridan, and I'm cornering the car like it's the Indy 500, and we're listening to my favorite NMH song, "Holland, 1945," and then onto Lake Shore Drive, the waves of Lake Michigan crashing against the boulders by the Drive, the windows cracked to get the car to defrost, the dirty, bracing, cold air rushing in, and I love the way Chicago smells - Chicago is brackish lake water and soot and sweat and grease, and I love it...And then it made my eyes mist with lines like this, from Will Grayson the First's dad to his son: "I'm so proud of you that it makes me proud of me."
And gave me the tiniest, slightest peek into the horrible world of depression with descriptions like this (capitalization added by me):
I think the idea of a "mental health day" is something completely invented by people who have no clue what it's like to have bad mental health. The idea that your mind can be aired out in twenty-four hours is kind of like saying heart disease can be cured if you eat the right breakfast cereal. Mental health days only exist for people who have the luxury of saying, "I don't want to deal with things today, " and then can take the whole day off, while the rest of us are stuck fighting the fights we always fight, with no one really caring one way or another, unless we choose to bring a gun to school or ruin the morning announcements with a suicide.