I’m always fascinated when two people write a novel together. What is the actual process? Do they write alternate chapters, like the husband and wife who write as Nicci French, with one writer ending in cliffhangers that the other has to get out of or does one do the bulk of the work and uses the name of the writer with the bigger reputation to help sales, as I suspect some of our more prolific writers who are writing in tandem with others must operate.
I found out how the writers of this 2010 Young Adult novel worked in a conversation between them printed at the back of the book and this partnership and process makes sense. The novel is about two American teens with the same name who meet up in complex circumstances befitting a YA novel midway through the proceedings. The boys have alternate narratives throughout the book helmed by one of the authors.
John Green’s Will Grayson is overshadowed in every sense by his larger than life gay best friend Tiny Cooper. They have stuck together since Little League with Will’s strong sense of justice proving him always ready to come to the defence of his friend from those who disapprove of him. This is in spite of Will’s philosophy for life being to keep quiet wherever possible and to try not to care, which just isn’t working, particularly when he gets interested in Jane, one of Tiny’s entourage and another member of the High School Gay-Straight Alliance.
David Levithan’s Will Grayson is prone to depression, has a simmering anger, knows he is gay and doesn’t yet feel the need to proclaim it. He writes entirely in lower case, which I initially really didn’t like as it’s hard to follow but I get why the author has done this for what it says about Will’s self-perception.
This is a brash, very American book. Tiny decides to mount a musical production of his life story and he is the link between the two Wills. It took quite a while for me to see Tiny as anything else but cartoonish and implausible but he did manage to win me over. There’s such great self-assurance in these characters, if only they can tear themselves away from social media, even from those who claim to feel anything but self-assured. I think if I were a British teenager reading this such confidence would alarm me. A whole musical gets staged without seemingly that much effort and their put downs to one another seem so resolutely sharp that I longed for more comradeship between them. This is, after all, a novel about friendship. The characters seem ready to rush into relationships without having friendship in a way which made me feel, well, just old and out of touch with modern youth.
I do know that I’m not the target audience here but I think that even as a teen I might have liked the tone pitched a little subtler and a little less casual and I cannot recall a YA novel where a significant location is a porn shop. However, if you come across this novel at the right age and with the right frame of mind I’m sure it could become a highly valued book with its own particular bespoke message to tell. It does have a big heart at its centre and it did make me laugh out loud.
Since the publication of this novel in 2010 John Green has achieved major bestseller success with “The Fault In Our Stars” and David Levithan’s subsequent work has been praised for its strong young gay characters. I think they probably have both done better work independently but I did largely enjoy this collaboration and see it as a brave attempt to inject some serious sparkle into the Young Adult genre, which can at time take itself a little too seriously.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson was published by Speak books in 2010.