Wednesday 7 December 2011

Will Grayson, Will Grayson/Dash and Lily's Book of Dares

Will Grayson, Will Grayson: John Green and David Levithan

I'd read a lot about John Green on young adult book review blogs, and the general consensus was that I ought to go out and buy all of his books! So, gift card in hand I wandered down the road to the other bookshop and perused the shelves. Should I go for An Abundance of Katherines, about a boy who only dates Katherines - because guess what? Katie is short for Katherine. Or Looking for Alaska? In the end I was won over by Will Grayson, Will Grayson's shiny cover and the novelty of the idea of two main characters with the same name - Will Grayson.

The book is written in the first person, alternating between the two Wills, with each author taking on a particular Will Grayson. Both Wills are quite lonely individuals. The first tries to live quietly and unobtrusively, his two rules being "Don't care" and "Shut up," out of fear of getting hurt. To his dismay, his best friend, Tiny Cooper - who he isn't even sure he likes very much - is the exact opposite, big, loud and flamboyant, falling in love every other day and the writer, director and star of a school musical - about his own life!

The other Will Grayson is clinically depressed and trapped in a state of self-loathing, putting up barriers between himself and the world. I've read a lot of reviews where people have found Will 2 to be moody and unlikeable, but I felt that he was a very real character who I could identify strongly with. The two Wills meet by chance in Chicago, and their lives change and take on new directions, in a rollercoaster of a story that is at times hilarious, heartbreaking and really, really corny - but in such a way that you can't help but grin.

Despite the title of the book, it is really Tiny Cooper who is the central character, and plays a crucial role in both Wills' lives. At first seeming to be a lovable but somewhat stereotypical "gay best friend" supporting role, gradually you come to realise that this boy has a huge heart beneath all his posturing, someone who genuinely lives to try to make other people feel better about themselves. He was truly lovely.

Because both Wills were written by different authors, I found it interesting to see how the characters were alike, and how they were different. In many ways, their "journeys of self-discovery" echoed each other's, but not in a self-conscious way. There were two authors, each writing their own version of a coming-of-age story, so their characters had both similarities and differences that came across more realistically than if a single author were to assign different characteristics to the different narrators.

While reading Will Grayson. I was surprised to find a little handwritten note inside, from somebody named Alicia, advising me to look at John Green and his brother's vlog site at Youtube, and recruiting me into their "nerdfighters' army." I was ridiculously excited that someone was passionate enough about her favourite author to want to share her love of reading with random strangers in a bookshop like this, and it led me to think of reviews I had read of one of David Levithan's other co-authored books:

 Dash and Lily's Book of Dares: Rachel Cohn and David Levithan.

Dash is browsing the bookshop one Christmas vacation, when among his favourite author's books, he finds a little red notebook with messages in code from a girl named Lily. Instead of merely contacting her with his personal details, he leaves a dare for her in ret
urn, and so the game begins.

Like Will Grayson, this book is written in alternating chapters: one narrated by Lily, the other by Dash. It's a light-hearted, cheerful and hilarious festive read - I kept laughing out loud on the train and ferry - and a sweet, heartwarming romance. Dash and Lily are loveable, nerdy characters - he is a word nerd, she's a strange, lonely girl, both more or less home alone for Christmas. Their dare game takes them all across New York: through the bookshop, Santa's grotto, nightclubs and Madame Tussauds, with the aid of  friends and relations working in each place. Yes, there are a lot of unlikely coincidences and contrivances, but it is another cosy, feel-good novel for the Christmas season.

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