Monthly Archives: December 2009

“Will Grayson, Will Grayson” by John Green & David Levithan


Huge thanks to the generous people at Penguin Books for Young Readers. I cannot imagine a better advanced copy to receive than "Will Grayson, Will Grayson," a joint effort by John Green and David Levithan. Yes, you read those authors' names correctly. Squee!

Basically — as the title may indicate — we have two Will Graysons, both high school students in the greater Chicago area. The Wills' stories play out in alternating chapters, each narrated by a Will. Our first Will is, for lack of a better way to phrase this, a small moon to the blazing sun that is his best friend, Tiny Cooper. Will is sardonic, quiet, and repressed, a low-key, background kind of guy who devours music but shies away from the trauma of real life. Will believes that getting involved means getting hurt, so he mostly doesn't get involved. His best friend, Tiny, is this huge (literally), incandescent creature bubbling over with life and spirit. Tiny's emotions are always right on the surface, so he cries and shouts with joy and is, always, unfailingly hopeful.

Tiny's also gay and writing a candy colored musical of his life. Before you worry that Tiny is some queen stereotype, remember that David Levithan is writing here, too, and he would never commit such a crime. In fact, one of the things I loved about this book is how multidimensional Tiny is. He's a sweet, thoughtful boyfriend, a callous best friend, a glorious egomaniac, a no-confidence loser … well, you get the picture. He's got believable shading. Without giving anything away, at the end of the novel, Tiny delivers a stirring speech about always having to work so hard to be appreciated; when I read that, all the facets of Tiny's personality clicked into place and I loved him.

The other Will Grayson (who, awesomely, refers to the first Will Grayson as o.w.g.) is a slight, depressed, closeted kid. He mostly despises his few friends, especially goth girl Maura, with whom he has a love/hate relationship (one probably not helped by the fact that Maura is seriously crushing on him, which makes her angry toward Will and herself). This Will Grayson's one lifeline is his online boyfriend, Isaac, who is warm, attentive, and accepting. When Will bravely ventures into the city to meet Isaac in person, he encounters his counterpart Will Grayson, Tiny, and a cool, droll girl named Jane, who may or may not become the first Will Grayson's love interest. From there, shenanigans ensue. 🙂

Nah, I will spoil no plot here. Instead, I'll just provide a list detailing why I really, really enjoyed reading "Will Grayson, Will Grayson":

(1) Granted, while some of the characters are standard here, you'll still come to adore them. The first Will Grayson is a typical John Green clever, maybe cute, loner/nerd/secretly incredible guy, while the aloof, super cool Jane strongly reminded me of the title character in "Looking for Alaska" as well as Margo in "Paper Towns." That's okay. These characters are written in such a smart, endearing way that you'll forgive them for not being wholly original creations. Besides, the epically wonderful Tiny, not to mention the beautifully complex other Will Grayson, are fantastically drawn characters.

(2) There are parental figures here who are loving, understanding folks when given half a chance by their kids. YES! I'm so tired of teen novels with conveniently absent parents. If teen novels are supposed to reflect teen life, then, like real kids, we readers need to see some real parents, too.

(3) I should not have been surprised — David Levithan is the author of the fabulous, genre-busting "Boy Meets Boy" — but I was nevertheless all warm and fuzzy to find a novel with gay characters who are happy and accepted by their peers. When the second Will Grayson comes out at school, it is so blase and ordinary, that I just about burst out in applause. While there is always a place for "issue" novels with GLBTQ characters, I think there's even more of a need for ones where a different sexual orientation or identity doesn't equal some horrible, wrenching fate.

(4) I get that John Green is a big idea guy. Remember all the discussion of Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself" in "Paper Towns?" In that case, I found the characters' exploration of Whitman's themes to be tedious discussions that halted the narrative's momentum. Here, the philosophical implications of the Schrodinger's Cat thought experiment for love and life are seamlessly melded into the story. Well done!

"Will Grayson, Will Grayson" is a lovely combination of humor, sarcasm, warmth, and sweetness. It's definitely a high school age novel — an entire scene takes place in a Chicago sex shop — with all the appropriate language and topics for that age group. I found myself smiling, sighing with delight, and getting choked up at so many points in this novel, which I'd guess is as sure a sign as any that it's a winner. Look for "Will Grayson, Will Grayson" in April of 2010.

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Posted by on December 11, 2009 in Uncategorized


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“Guardian of the Dead” by Karen Healey


I got an advanced copy of "Guardian of the Dead" in the mail from the good people at Little, Brown Books. Thank you! Aside from being taken by the rad cover, which features a spooky mask, I'm not sure I ever would have picked up this Maori mythology-laden story set in New Zealand. I'm so glad I did, because I think "Guardian of the Dead" is a winner on every level — it's a smart, fast-paced, wholly unique action / fantasy / romance hybrid. It is, literally, like no teen book I've read before.

I don't want to give too much of the plot away — there are plot points to spoil, I tell you! — so, I'll attempt only a broad outline. Ellie Spencer, a no-nonsense girl with an asexual best friend, is our heroine here. She's a teen attending boarding school in the southern part of New Zealand while her parents are on a world tour. Ellie is a plain, large girl. I don't mean obese or even fat; she's just big, both tall and solid. I loved how author Karen Healey described Ellie's embarrassment at taking up so much space in the world. Even better, I loved how Ellie's size eventually made her into a powerful force.

Ellie is smitten with secretive redhead Mark, a classmate in her Classics course. Mark starts randomly appearing everywhere in Ellie's life and, afterward, works some sort of mojo on her that causes confusion and forgetfulness. Meanwhile, Ellie is reluctantly helping best pal Kevin with a play at the local college (she's got a martial arts background and will assist with blocking the action scenes). Ellie immediately dislikes the lead actress, the cold, regal Reka, and not just because Reka easily charms the once uncharmable Kevin with, you guessed it, some sort of mojo. Reka seems to appear and disappear at will, kind of like the elusive Mark, and despite her exotic beauty, she's definitely weird — she sickens at the smell of cooked meat! When Ellie encounters Reka and Mark in a misty woods one evening, everything she knows, including the believability of ancient myths, changes.

There's also a powerful mask that gives Ellie godlike powers; loads of Maori legends about birth, love, and death; an awesome secondary character in the spunky play director Iris; otherworldly allies and foes; a climactic battle; and an interesting, hopeful romance. I never would have thought these elements would mesh so well, but author Healey makes it all flow together beautifully. The legends, the teen attraction, the temptation to use forbidden power, the strange setting … it fits. I especially loved that Ellie isn't one of those spunky, sarcastic, too smart for the room girls who seem to live in every teen novel lately. She's brave, smart, and tough but also self-conscious, angry, and occasionally irrational.

I'm probably not doing this wonderful book justice, but, truly, it's one of the best I've read in a long time. Parts of this book reminded me of Neil Gaiman at his "American Gods" finest, which is high praise indeed! If nothing else, read it to learn more about New Zealand and the rich stories and history of the Maori people. There's some mild language here, so I'd say the audience is upper middle school. "Guardian of the Dead" comes out in April. Look for it then!

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Posted by on December 2, 2009 in Uncategorized


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