Will Grayson and will grayson both narrate their stories a little bit differently, but they both have some big things in common. Since these guys are seventeen-year-old boys, they talk like seventeen-year-old boys, complete with swearing and all kinds of casual pop culture references. They also both have wicked senses of humor. For example:
It is approximately across from the hallway mural in which a poorly painted version of our school mascot, Willie the Wildkit, says in a speech bubble, "Wildkits Respect EVERYONE," which is hilarious on at least fourteen different levels, the fourteenth being that there is no such thing as a wildkit. Willie the Wildkit looks approximately like a mountain lion, though, and while I am admittedly not an expert in zoology, I'm reasonably sure that mountain lions do not, in fact, respect everyone. (5.100)
That's Will talking, but it could totally be will, too—both are super funny. And neither of these kids is empty-headed; they're both really trying to make sense of a lot of important things. Will thinks through his feelings on love, for instance, while will comes to terms with his sexuality and his fears about opening up to other people. Sure this book is light and funny, but you won't finish it without the wheels turning in your own brain a little bit, too.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson fits pretty squarely into the "coming of age" category of the young adult lit camp. It's all about high school-aged peeps trying to come to terms with who they are and what they want to be, all while trying to answer the big questions about life and love and friendship. But, hey, you don't have to be seventeen years old to appreciate some quality time with Tiny Cooper. Everyone loves Tiny Cooper.
The title of the book—Will Grayson, Will Grayson—is pretty cut and dry. It refers to the two Will Graysons who narrate the novel and serve as its main characters. Pretty simple, right? Of course, what's not so simple is the idea of identity. Who exactly are we? Will Grayson and will grayson are pretty different guys, but they share something pretty major—their names. How interchangeable are their lives? How divergent are they? Yup. This title might be easy to explain, but it also starts to ask some really interesting questions.
In the very last moments of this story, will grayson orchestrates a beautiful tribute to Tiny Cooper. First, a whole bunch of different Will Graysons stand up and say how much they appreciate Tiny, then the rest of the cast and the audience does, too. Seriously. You're going to need a tissue for this finale.
Then will looks over at Gideon and reflects on the scene:
i nod to the other will grayson, up onstage. he nods to me. we have something between us, him and me.
but the truth?
everybody has it.
that's our curse and our blessing. that's our trial and our error and our it.
the applause continues. i look up at tiny cooper.
he may be heavy, but right now he floats. (20.129-134)
If you recall, when will opens his story, he is thinking about killing himself and/or other people. Now, though, he realizes his connection to everyone else. He's not just a cynic snarking at everything; he's open to love and the possibilities life has to offer. Will Grayson has helped him understand this, and so have Tiny and Gideon. Heck, everyone at the show tonight is feeling the love, so we can't blame will for finally feeling it, too. Nice job, will grayson.
The setting of Will Grayson, Will Grayson will probably look pretty familiar to a lot of readers. It takes place in modern times in some of the suburbs around Chicago, Illinois. Just a bunch of Midwestern kids getting up to some mischief in America's second city, right?
Pretty much. Will Grayson lives in Evanston, which is only about fifteen miles north of Chicago. That explains why Will, Jane, and Tiny go into the city to see concerts and hang out so much—it probably only takes them a little over a half an hour to get from their houses to downtown Chicago. Evanston is also the home of Northwestern University, which is where Will's doctor parents suggest he go to college/medical school. Not only will he be going into the same profession as them but he'll be close by. Talk about not leaving the nest.
will grayson, on the other hand, lives in Naperville—that's a lovely suburb about thirty-five miles west of Chicago. will's trek into the city takes a whole lot longer than the Evanston crew's, which explains why he's on the train for a while when he goes to meet Isaac (or not meet Isaac, as it turns out). It also gives us a little clue as to why he's not as familiar with the city. It's more of an effort for will to get into Chicago, so he's not as familiar with its famous landmarks and porn shops.
Speaking of Frenchy's, it's a real and actual place (no, we're not linking—that's between you and Google). Other real life landmarks mentioned in the story are the Hideout, where Neutral Milk Hotel is supposed to be playing. will and Tiny also share their first kiss under the Bean (also known as Cloud Gate) in Millennium Park. This book is quite the tour of Chicago.
You probably also noticed that it's February-ish in Chicago. That means it's cold. Like, very cold. Midwestern winters are notorious for being icy, windy, and drab. Will's kind of right when he says it's "the kind of cold where breathing through your nose gives you brain freeze" (5.134-135). Ah, Chicago winters are lovely.
But why is this novel set in Chicago? Well, John Green said that at the time he and David Levithan were writing the book, he had an office in Chicago. Right across the street from Frenchy's to be exact. So that's part of the reason.
But the setting also gives us a sense that these are just average American teenagers living average American lives. They live in the 'burbs, but they have access to a big city with a hopping arts and culture scene for them to enjoy. There's also quite a bit of tolerance in this liberal-ish area (you probably noticed that no one completely wigs out at school when will tells everyone he is gay). What's not to love?
How do you think the story would have been different if the two Will Graysons lived on opposite ends of Manhattan? Or if they made their home in San Francisco? Or even on farms in rural Ohio? Moving our characters gives them a whole different feel. Personally, we think Chicago is their kind of town.
While the language in this novel is pretty easy to understand and it's brimming with pop culture references to boot, the issues in Will Grayson, Will Grayson aren't exactly a walk in the park. We're dealing with teenagers who are struggling to figure out who they are, who they love, and where they want to go in life. Add in their fondness for talking about obscure books, music, and 20th-century Austrian scientists, and there are definitely few head-scratcher moments along the way.
No need to worry, though, if any of this stuff is in your wheelhouse. The only thing you need to enjoy this book is a willingness to put yourself in someone else's shoes and let all the feels in. In other words, you've totally got this.
This book may deal with some tough themes (mental illness, teen sexuality, love), but it sure is fun to read. This is because, even in dark moments, Green and Levithan aren't afraid to keep things snarky and light:
every morning i pray that the school bus will crash and we'll all die in a fiery wreck. then my mom will be able to sue the school bus company for never making school buses with seat belts, and she'll be able to get more money for my tragic death than i would've ever made in my tragic life. unless the lawyers from the school bus company can prove to the jury that i was guaranteed to be a fuckup. then they'd get away with buying my mom a used ford fiesta and calling it even. (2.17)
Both Will Graysons talk like typical teenagers, but they're also deep thinkers. They're reflecting on the things they think and believe and even changing their minds sometimes. These two are at a crossroads, but we know they're going to come out stronger and wiser on the other side.
And speaking of these two, a key component to this book's writing style is that there are two narrators, so swing by the "Narrator Point of View" page for the scoop on this unique feature.
This book may be called Will Grayson, Will Grayson, but it's definitely about Tiny Cooper in a lot of ways. And that's why the musical version of his life story takes center stage in the plot.
Tiny started working on this show—originally called Tiny Dancer—years ago. As Will explains:
"Oh. My. Sweet. Holy. God," I say, because Tiny Dancer is this musical, written by Tiny. It's basically Tiny's slightly fictionalized life story, except it is sung, and it is—I mean, I don't use this adjective lightly—the gayest single musical in all of human history. Which is really saying something. And by gay, I don't mean that it sucks. I just mean that it's gay. It is actually—as musicals go—quite good. The songs are catchy. I'm particularly fond of "The Nosetackle (Likes Tight Ends)," which includes the memorable couplet, "The locker room isn't porn for me / 'cause you're all too damned pimple-ey." (3.9)
Okay, so clearly Will isn't too thrilled by this show. Tiny makes things worse by naming one of the main characters Gil Wrayson. Even though Tiny swears that "Gil Wrayson isn't [Will]; he's a fictional character" (5.53), Will isn't looking forward to the humiliation that he's certain will befall all of them all on opening night.
But the show is surprisingly good. And it's sort of a mirror for the ways that the various characters change and grow throughout the story. Tiny changes the focus of the play from himself to love in order to make it work better as a piece of art. And he's right—as amazing as he is, Tiny's life story can't be just about him. It has to be about something way bigger, like his love for "Phil Wrayson." Wink, wink.
Will's reaction to the play also shows us just how uptight and uncomfortable with feelings he is. Sure, he's cool with Tiny creating the play, but to stage it and show the whole world what you're thinking and feeling and going through? Well, that violates all Will's rules about shutting up and not caring. In the end, though, Will realizes how much he loves Tiny Cooper and how much he loves the play he made.
Even will grayson is pretty awed by the fact that Tiny is brave enough to sing about his life in front of strangers. When will is feeling down about Isaac, Tiny sings him a song. In the middle of the street. Right after meeting him. Does it seem a little crazy? Absolutely. But it also takes will's mind off his problems. will is never going to be like Tiny, but if Tiny can belt out a song telling the world how he feels, will can open up to his mom and his friends about who he is, too.
The entire book ends with the staging of Hold Me Closer and the big moment when everyone comes together to love and appreciate the heck out of each other. Tiny's mission was to change the world and inspire people, and given the love fest that the performance ends with, we'd say he succeeded. With both Will Graysons participating, it's clear they've both stopped being so closed-off and have dared to let themselves love a bit, too.
If you didn't think that thought experiments dreamed up by an Austrian physicist could be romantic, think again. The ideas behind Schrödinger's cat come up quite a few times in this story. The band the Maybe Dead Cats is named after the theory, and Jane explains pretty well just what Edwin Schrödinger was up to with his fictional feline friend:
"Schrodinger was doing a thought experiment. Okay, so, this paper had just come out arguing that if, like, an electron might be in any one of four different places, it is sort of in all four places at the same time until the moment someone determines which of the four places it's in […]
"It totally doesn't make sense. It's mind-bendingly weird. So Schrodinger tries to point this out. He says: put a cat inside a sealed box with a little bit of radioactive stuff that might or might not—depending on the location of its subatomic particles—cause a radiation detector to trip a hammer that releases poison into the box and kills the cat […]
"So according to the theory that electrons are in all-possible-positions until they are measured, the cat is both alive and dead until we open the box and find out if it is alive or dead. He was not endorsing cat-killing or anything. He was just saying that it seemed a little improbable that a cat could be simultaneously alive and dead." (13.96, 98, 100)
Okay, so that might seem a bit dry and science-y, but it's actually a pretty awesome symbol for love. Will is in that in-between place; he doesn't know if he wants Jane or not. Maybe the relationship cat is dead or maybe it's alive. He doesn't know and he doesn't want to know, though; he just wants to keep that box closed and not deal with any of the feelings that will arise if the cat turns out to be dead after all.
Will realizes this big time once he finds out that Jane has that pesky boyfriend:
It seems to me that all the things we keep in sealed boxes are both alive and dead until we open the box, that the unobserved is both there and not. Maybe that's why I can't stop thinking about the other Will Grayson's huge eyes in Frenchy's: because he had just rendered the dead-and-alive cat dead. I realize that's why I never put myself in a situation where I really need Tiny, and why I followed the rules instead of kissing her when she was available: I chose the closed box. (13.101)
In the end, Will and Jane decide to open the box and give it a try. Things are alive for now, but who knows? In the future it might all fall apart. But that's okay—Will finally realizes that this stuff is all part of living and loving. He doesn't want to opt for closed boxes anymore. He wants to pull off those lids and take his chance with what's inside. Yay.
Will and Tiny became friends while playing Little League together, so baseball becomes kind of a symbol for their friendship. The funny part, though, is that they both have different memories about playing ball together.
Will remembers the time he dropped a ball and got chewed out by his coach until Tiny hauled off and hit the guy. That was the last Little League game they ever played in. But Tiny remembers their Little League days a little differently during Hold Me Closer:
"Tiny's gay," adds someone else.
The coach wheels around to the bench and shouts. "Hey! HEY! No insulting teammates."
"It's not an insult," Gary says. But he isn't Gary anymore. It isn't Gary talking. It's me. "It's just a thing. Like, some people are gay. Some people have blue eyes."
"Shut up, Wrayson," the coach says.
The kid playing Tiny glances gratefully at the kid playing me, and then one of the bullies stage-whispers, "You're so gay for each other."
And I say, "We're not gay. We're eight." This happened. I'd forgotten it, but seeing the moment resurrected, I remember. (19.65-70)
Though they're wearing baseball gear, these memories aren't really about baseball at all—they're about Will and Tiny being there for each other. Neither one of them was really good at the sport, but they had each other's backs. Here we see Will finally realize that this is why they're friends.
It's really no surprise that Will's favorite place to hang out alone is the dugout of the Little League field between his school and home. He likes to sit there by himself in a place where no one can see him and just think. Tiny knows exactly where to find Will when they have a falling out. Playing baseball might not have been fun, but it was where their friendship started and that means it'll always be really special to them. Go team.
Though this story is told in first person, we actually have two people telling it. Both Will Grayson and will grayson each get to tell their stories from their own points of view in alternating chapters. This makes it especially interesting when our two narrators cross paths and we get to peek into their lives from the outside, too.
What does it look like to someone else when will is freaking out because Isaac isn't real? What is Tiny Cooper really like to people who haven't known him since fifth grade? Usually you don't get to explore all these cool dimensions with a first-person narrative, but Will Grayson, Will Grayson gives it all to us.
Will Grayson doesn't have any real friends except the very gay and very large Tiny Cooper. Meanwhile, on the other side of Chicago, will grayson doesn't have many true friends either… except his secret online love interest, Isaac. With these lonely stages set, we've met our two Will Graysons and we're ready to see if they find a bit more connection and meaning in their lives.
Tiny is not only trying to get funding to stage Tiny Dancer—the musical story of his life—he's also trying his darnedest to get Will and his friend Jane together. But Will is just not into it. The other will, however, is super excited because Isaac has finally suggested they meet.
Will Grayson and will grayson finally meet up, bumping into each other in a porn shop in downtown Chicago as they both realize some unfortunate truths: Isaac isn't real, Jane has a new boyfriend (prompting Will to decide maybe he does like her a bit after all), and porn shops can be really freaking weird.
Will makes a play to steal Jane away from her terrible boyfriend and gets pretty fed up with playing second fiddle to Tiny all the time. Meanwhile, will starts dating Tiny Cooper and watches as his new boyfriend pushes forward with rewriting, casting, and staging Tiny Dancer. Love is in the air, yo.
Jane breaks up with her terrible ex-boyfriend and gives Will a chance. Yay. will realizes that Tiny is just too much for him and they break up. Boo. And Will realizes, once again, how much he loves his big gay best friend. Phew.
Will helps Tiny in the run-up to opening night, while will has an idea that involves going to see Tiny's play in person. Relationships are officially getting back on track.
Thanks to will (with some support from Will), at the end of Tiny's play a handful of Will Graysons stand up and announce how much they appreciate Tiny Cooper. With that, Tiny Cooper is feeling the love from all the Will Graysons in his life. Yay for happy endings.