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This co-review was completed in 2010 and is being archived here for great justice!

Internet! You know what is better than a nutella cheesecake? Not much! EXCEPT CO-REVIEWING WITH ANA. Ana blogs at things mean a lot and if you don't know her you are missing out. TODAY we are sharing the conversation we've had over a book, by some dudes you may have heard of. We sat and took apart Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan, and it was so freaking awesome, Ana blew my mind into 2012. TRUE STORY: it is not the Mayan calendar ending that kick starts the apocalypse, but my brain arriving in 2012 and EXPLODING FROM GLEE that Ana gave up her precious free time to tl;dr with me. I know, everyone wants to touch me now, but instead all I can offer you is our co-review. While this is in no way as awesome as you getting to co-review with her oh yes you're jealous aren't you, it is still pretty awesome. But I have to warn you, you may not want to enter this co-review without a breadcrumb trail and a spoiler net, because it is long and full of plot details and twists.

Also, I'm sorry about the apocalypse.

Renay: Will Grayson, Will Grayson! Two of them, two authors, two of us. This is clearly a recipe for success! I am totally STOKED to be discussing this book with you because it means I get to pick your brain. I promise I will not make this Renay Asks Ana Nosy Questions About A Book And Doesn't Share Any Opinions At All, because that would be unfair to make you do all the heavy lifting (it will be hard, but I will endure). I feel it is safe to start at the beginning, which for both of us I think was "JOHN GREEN HAS ANOTHER BOOK COMING OUT!!!111 CUE FANGIRLING." Time for the necessary evaluation of all that excitement, those nights, waiting for the book to arrive, the thrill when we held it in our hands, when we read the first page! The question is, did it deliver?

Ana: You had to start with a difficult question, didn't you? ;) I didn't quite know how I felt about the book for days after I finished it. I mean, I know it was awesome in many ways, but I didn't know how I felt about it as a new John Green book. And I did wonder if all those months of fangirling and taking screenshots of John Green holding the book during his live show to e-mail you didn't contribute to my developing slightly unreasonable expectations (for which I solely blame myself, of course). Expectations are killers! I wish I knew how to get rid of them. To actually answer your question, this book didn't hit me like a punch in the gut like John Green's other books did, but I do think it's a book capable of having that same powerful effect on other people. And one of the reasons why I've been looking forward to discussing it with you is because I know that as we move from how much we enjoyed it to how it works, what it does, and how it does the things it does, I'll develop an appreciation of it that simply reading it and putting it back on the shelf wouldn't allow me to have. Can you tell I miss lit classes?

Renay: Of course! I ask the tough questions. You can come to the lit class IN MY HEART. :D

I did manage to keep my expectations in a low gear, because I knew David Levithan was the co-author. I am very hit-or-miss with Levithan's work. Sometimes it's wonderful (for instance, I loved his work in Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List) and sometimes I go, "....what...? (Wide Awake). Expectations fully tempered, despite efforts to the contrary. ;) I was actually prepared to go into this book loving John Green's half and being emotionally disconnected from Levithan's. Neither of these things happened. I liked the book, of course! I gobbled it up in one day and wanted more more more, but no, it wasn't a John Green Book for me (that phrase comes with sparkles, but no unicorns). There's not the same helpless love I felt for Looking for Alaska or An Abundance of Katherines, but I don't think that's a bad thing. Not every work an author puts out is going to be fireworks and cotton candy and a ride on the Scrambler. I liked their characters and the complicated nature of friendship and love being analyzed, but I did wonder at the end: who this story is truly about? Did you run into that issue, as well?

Ana: I did a bit, yes. I hesitate to call the book unfocused, and I have absolutely nothing against stories in which several different characters deal with their own separate issues, but by the end I kind of wanted it to have gone....further? I've seen reviews that said that the ending felt rushed, and while I don't think it left the characters in a bad place necessarily, I kind of felt that way about the whole book. Things happened fast, and I had several moments of, "Wait, can we go over that again, only more slowly?" Then again, I read this book insanely fast — all because, as I said above, I was ridiculously excited to be reading it — so it could have been that too.

Renay: I actually discussed the end of the book with KJ because I was curious if I was the only one going "WTF?". We had an interesting discussion about resolution, which might tie in to how the work felt unfocused. I don't think the ending was rushed, I think the ending was kidnapped! Obviously, what happened at the end was pretty neat, but KJ said that the book ended about one chapter too soon — and I agree with her. That abruptness, the lack of direction plagued me the entire story, too, even though I enjoyed it. I can't decide if the speed at which I read it contributed to this feeling, or if I read it so fast because I was waiting for something and kept rushing through to find what it might be. Ensemble casts are awesome, but when the book starts and seems to be about these two boys but ends on another character who has come to define the text, I get a little confused. Was the story about how each Will navigated their own life, or navigated their own life around Tiny? I think it matters! I have seen other reviews claim this is a "love it or hate it" ending, but I think that oversimplifies the issue. I didn't love it, of course, or I wouldn't be whining! But I didn't hate it, either. I was...bemused!

Ana: Yeah, I'm not sure if it's about it being a "love it or hate it" kind of ending. And that question does matter! Tiny Cooper stole the show, and not in an entirely positive way. I mean, on the one hand, I liked him. He was interesting to read about! The things he went through were relevant! And while I can see other writers making a mess of not presenting him as a stereotype, I did think Green and Levithan did a fine job of making him fully human.

But — the book is called Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Obviously that doesn't mean there isn't room for other characters, especially characters that are so important for the two Wills. But the way the story played out, and especially the ending, did make them seem a bit like they were satellites revolving around a person who was just louder and more noteworthy than they were. I'm not sure if that was intended, but at any rate, it wasn't quite what I wanted from the story. I don't think Tiny's presence in the story is a bad thing — he helps Green's Will break through his fa├žade of not really caring, and Levithan's Will feel more comfortable with his sexuality than he ever did before. But the emphasis on the person who brought these changes about rather than on the changes themselves kind of cheats both Wills out of their agency. I'm not saying the story presents Tiny as a Big Fairy Godfather of Feel Good, but because his presence is so inescapable, especially towards the end, it comes a bit close.

Renay: I agree that Tiny was extremely important to both protagonists, for the reasons you outlined but also for the way he brought them together with someone else who was what they needed at the time, even if they didn't quite know it. Will and Jane and Will and Gideon — Tiny helped both of them form these relationships both directly and indirectly, even if they were hesitant to reach out before. So even though at the end they feel resolved, in a way, I think you're right on about the agency. Tiny basically steals the show, which is always a problem when writing a character like this. So many reviews gush over Tiny but Will and Will are barely a blip — and I think many parts of their story, divorced from Tiny, like their connection, is lost because of this, which makes me a little sad.

Ana: It really is too bad. I find the processes they both go through so interesting, and I find stories in which people tentatively reach out even though they're terrified endlessly fascinating. (Um, not that I have unresolved issues in that area or anything.) The book would have satisfied me more if it had dealt with that in more detail, and if it hadn't been for Tiny's Magic Wand effect.

You mentioned earlier that you were worried you'd feel emotionally disconnected from Levinthan's Will Grayson, but in the end that didn't happen. Was your level of investment in both stories the same, then? How do you think that they compare?

Renay: If only they had given us ONE MORE CHAPTER. Just one, guys!

I expected to like John's Will Grayson more — for him to be more accessible to me. I have whined about my problems with Levithan's characters and plots before, so I don't have a super great track record. What happened surprised me, because after finishing the book, my feelings are all tangled up with Levithan's Will Grayson. I know I rushed through every other chapter to find out how he handled things, how he survived. That horror, realizing that you've been double-crossed, when you already feel so alone? That did it for me. It even surpassed the all-lowercase typing, which I could have lived without. Green's Will — his problems were definitely Straight Cisgender White Dude problems and I have to admit I am way less interested in that, which is not fault of John Green's at all. I knew how that story was going to end! If John Green's books have a weakness (besides how he uses female characters), it's that I expect certain things because the character type spits out the plot at my feet. Honestly, even if Levithan is hit-or-miss for me, there are surprises on the journey. This, in all likelihood, is just me? Maybe? Perhaps?

Ana: No, I see what you mean. As much as I liked John Green's Will Grayson and his story, there was only one way it could go, and this was clear from the beginning: dude learns that shutting up and not caring doesn't actually work and isn't really fooling anyone. Not that this isn't a story worth telling — but there's definitely less room for surprises.

Horrible confession time for me (and this is going to be slightly spoiler-ish, I think): the scene you mentioned, where Levithan's Will realises he's been double-crossed, is central to the book in many ways. And I see the horror and the loneliness of it all, but at the same time, the book kind of lost me there. It took me a while to recover from what that scene had made me feel, and from the very idiosyncratic way in which it disappointed me. I mention this while being fully aware that it's my own failure as a reader, but all the same I have to mention it, because it influenced my reading experience so much.

Okay, so: I LOVED the beginning of that Will Grayson's story, because it perfectly captured something that I don't see in literature so much (maybe I'm reading the wrong books?): how emotionally charged and important moments spend sitting in front of a computer chatting with a person who's halfway across the country or the world can be. This isn't easy to write about, I don't think, because there aren't many sensorial clues an author can make use of. I think the Internet has its own equivalent of non-verbal language, which is a mix of emoticons and pauses and dots and... things which are incredibly hard to explain to people who don't know them — kind of like gestures and tone of voice and facial expressions.I'm part of one of the first generations to grow up with the Internet, so seeing these experiences reflected in literature matters a lot to me. And back when I had Writing Ambitions, I used to dream about capturing these moments accurately, and I used to wonder if writers didn't just have to wait until the meaningfulness of certain things was kind of implicitly agreed upon. If you want your writing to be subtle and effective, you kind of have to trust your audience to know that certain things do matter to begin with.

I still think Levithan did this well, and ultimately the double-crossing doesn't change that. I loved the fact that later on the story acknowledges that no matter how horrible what Maura did was (and that kind of manipulation is horrible, especially when you use your knowledge of someone's sexual orientation to toy with them), there was still some real sharing and some real communication involved. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that scene killed me because it kind of confirms the idea people have about connections formed online, an idea I've been battling since I was 13: People Are Not Who They Say They Are and You Can't Trust Anyone. So when it happened, instead of being crushed for Will my first reaction was "Oh no. Here we go again."

I realise this isn't fair, for many reasons: first, because that kind of double-crossing does happen, even if not everyone you know online is lying to you (obviously). I think the problem here is one of representation. If I had read more books where friendships and romantic connections formed online were portrayed more positively, I wouldn't be afraid that this one story would be reinforcing stereotypes. Which brings me to problem number two: I feel really embarassed to be all OH NOEMS! This Book Doesn't Represent My Experiences Online Fairly!11@ when Will Grayson, Will Grayson is actually a book that does so much to represent experiences that have been silenced and erased from literature, namely those of gay teens. So yeah, it's not really fair of me to resent the book for not doing this one particular thing that I somehow got into my head that it was going to do. And I don't resent it, but at the same time, this influenced my reading experience so much that I had to mention it. Basically, it took me a while to get over myself, and by the time I had, there were only two chapters left.

Renay: It's problematic, to be sure, and I'm not positive if the follow-up online connections — specifically, between Will and Will — make up for playing into a pretty tired stereotype. I pinged on the betrayal for certain, and glossed the transportation of it once it became clear what had happened, because well, ouch. I am sure part of my reaction is because it has happened to me but also because it leaves someone who already feels trapped in their own body completely stranded. But at what cost are we using these methods, feeding into a cultural narrative in so many ways that suggests the internet is less about connection and more about liars, and falsity? It was really odd, considering John Green's work on his vlog, to have a book where the defining online interaction turns out to be negative is very strange.

Maybe it comes back to the audience. Bullying and trickery and shenanigans on the internet for kids these days is not an out-there concept. It goes back to your point about how online interaction has meaning, and we have to wait for our cultural to define how we will write and talk about these things. Part of the way that works in this story is that Levithan is tapping into this for delicious plot and angst potential, knowing their core audience is going to be aware of it as a reality, people like us, who grew up in a time where the internet and people on it were meant to be feared, or meant to be considered unreal, it can be hard to stomach or bypass. It's that oogy feeling I get when talking about offline life with folks and they call it "real life" instead of "offline life". Thanks very much, but I'm just as real as anyone, and probably at least five times more awesome.

I totally see where you're coming from about how it could be easy to react that way, especially if you are shy and you have formed so many positive connections online to rarely see anything positive in literature about online relationships. It doesn't impact me as much anymore — I reached my Zen, but I also met my boyfriend of seven years through Livejournal and these crazy intarwebs! And you! Instead of throwing me off my game, I can only sigh heavily and shake my fist at the need for angst and drama in books! Even though I love them.

I definitely don't think it's unfair to expect a certain handling of a topic from certain authors. If you had told me, "Hey, so John Green is going to be involved in this project where the Internet is used for evil!" I would have given you the stink-eye. But it's good to draw the lines, I think, between the type of reader we are the the actual audience of the book — kids who probably use the internet in ways we haven't imagined yet. Do YOU have a tumblr yet, Ana? Because if the answer is no, clearly we're both behind the times. ;)

Ana: Ha — I do! It has, um, mostly pictures of my cats in it. DON'T JUDGE ME :P You know, though it made me feel slightly old, I love what you said about how this book's target YA audience won't necessarily see that scene as fuelling a cultural narrative where the internet and internet people = suspicious and to be feared. I feel a bit out of touch with teenagers these days (and ha, suddenly I feel 38 here), but it's impossible to miss the fact that internet usage has been normalised in the last decade or so. So yes, it's possible that they're so used to it that they'll see a trick being played on someone online has something that happens, same as offline.

Something I wonder about, though — has this normalisation extended to meeting people online? Sometimes it seems that in the age of Facebook, the internet is mostly used to communicate with people we already know, and staying away from strangers is a common concern. I also met my boyfriend online, and this no longer causes people to give us the same weird looks they used to, but... I don't know. Sometimes it seems that that late-90's wonder at the fact that we could instantly communicate with anyone anywhere in the world has disappeared, and given place to a general "Who are you? Do I *know* you?" attitude. But this is probably a subject for an essay on cultural studies rather than a book review :P Feel free to return to the book now.

Renay: *judges* How dare you post CAT PICTURES on the INTERNET. That is not what the internet is

Oh wait.

I don't think meeting people has quite managed to get over the hump. I still get weird looks about meeting people from online, but not about having online friends. I think if we sat down, we could probably write an entire book on this subject! Together! And no one would read it but Chris and Debi. :D Tying that back to the book; when it goes badly for Will, he doesn't unplug, but instead reaches out to the other Will and Tiny through the same medium. It's not all bad in the book, that's for sure.

But, if we can't write our book, it's worth it to mention Gideon, right? Can we mention Gideon? Because I kind of loved him and pretty much ship Will/Gideon all over the place. >>

Ana: Gideon! Gideon was so awesome. I loved how he told will grayson "What are you, three years old?" when he kind of needed to be told that. I loved that he made him talk to Maura and acknowledge that the two of them had shared something real, despite all the lies. And I loved how he could see through will and disarm him with some good old honest communication — something he wasn't used to, and seemed to need badly.

And you know, as much as I really love the idea of Will and Gideon together, I was kind of glad it didn't happen in the book. It goes with the overall theme of love coming in many shapes and forms, and other connections being just as important and meaningful as romantic ones — which was one of my favourite things about the book.

Renay: Very true! Although, it is not my fault I was convinced that eventually they would leave high school and go to college and fall in love. Levithan convinced me of this, because Tiny! He knew!

gideon: you must be tiny

tiny looks at the hand gideon has on my shoulder before shaking the hand that gideon's offered. he doesn't sound too happy when he says

tiny: ...and you must be gideon

Gideon was the friend will needed at a complicated time in his life. But Tiny knew, and I am not even going to claim slash goggles are needed to see it! *rolls happily*

Ana: No, it is not your fault, and if we could magically peek into the future of the characters I'm sure we'd see some hot will/Gideon scenes :P (Am I the only one who sometimes daydreams about this?).

Because this review is on its way to being as long as the book itself (THAT might be fun :P), I will now ask you if you have any parting words!

Renay: You are not the only one who dreams about hot action. It's just, I tend to write fanfic about it. >.> You are free to join me! *tempts* Let us write some epic Will Grayson, Will Grayson fanfiction together! *sparkles*

We do TALK a lot, don't we? Alternate title for review: Ana and Renay Review WGWG! At Length! For a Long Time! Please Bring a Snack, and Arrange for Someone to Feed your Family and Any Small Pets.

Final thought: I want John Green to write more GLBTQ characters, instead of straight white dudes, and I love Tiny Cooper. :D

Ana: I definitely want that too. And despite everything I said about how he steals the show, I just wanted to clarify that I do appreciate Tiny Cooper.

Notable Quotes, Ana:

Upon finishing the note, I read it again. It makes both truths more true. I want her. I don't. Maybe I am a robot after all. I have no idea what to say, so I go ahead and say the worst possible thing. "Very cute. This is why I should adhere to Rule 2.
In the ensuing silence, I have time to contemplate the word cute--how dismissive it is, how it's the equivalent of calling someone little, how it makes a person into a baby, how the word is a neon sign burning through the dark reading, "Feel bad about yourself."
And then finally she says, "Not my favourite adjective."

(I think I mostly marked this because I hate "cute" with a burning passion too. But! It does tell us some interesting things about Will.)

Notable Quotes, Renay:

or <3. you think that looks like a heart? if you do, that's only because you've never seen a scrotum.

(sorry. I love will. >.> It's like the FedEx arrow. Once you've seen it, you can never UNSEE it.)

"You have the oddest way of coming on to me, Tiny."
"I would never come on to you, because you're not gay. And, like, boys who like girls are inherently unhot. Why would you like someone who can't like you back?
The question is rhetorical, but if I wasn't trying to shut up, I'd answer it: You can like someone who can't like you back because unrequited love can be survived in a way that once-requited love cannot.

(Will and Tiny: unwittingly revealing more about themselves than they mean to and also, my BFF OTP for life.)

Other Opinions: Book Gazing, BookLust, books i done read, The Book Smugglers, Good Books and Good Wine, Stuff As Dreams Are Made On, The Written World, yours?

Date: 2012-01-07 07:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I just read this book and I COMPLETELY AGREE. I apologize if my review sounds like I am totally copying yours, when it actually posts. But I am not, I swear, I just felt much the same things.


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