Will Grayson, Will Grayson is the co-authored novel by John Green and David Levithan (who is also known for co-authoring Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist with Rachel Cohn) that examines the intersection of two different characters, both named Will Grayson. In an interview following the book, Green and Levithan show their process in writing the book, where they each wrote one of the Will Graysons, and then wove the two stories together. Green’s Grayson starts the book; Levithan’s Grayson comes next. Levithan notes that the idea for the book “came from the fact that one of my best friends is named David Leventhal. Not the same name, but close enough. We both went to Brown, and were mistaken for each other a lot.” The interview at the back between Green and Levithan almost rivals the book itself, and it definitely worth reading when you reach the end.
Green’s Will Grayson lives in Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, where he is consistently overshadowed by his best friend, Tiny Cooper. Tiny is a later described by the other Will Grayson as looking like he is the size of a refrigerator, and he is in the process of directing and starring in a musical he has written about his own life. Will describes it as “the gayest single musical in all of human history,” and it has a slightly fictionalized character named Gil Wrayson. Tiny becomes a larger than life character in the novel, sometimes overshadowing both of the Wills. Even his text messages communicate his personality, especially the following that he sends to one of the Will Graysons while re-writing parts of his musical:
I’M THINKING HAPPY GAY THOUGHTS ABOUT U
I WANT TO KNIT U A SWEATER. WHAT COLOR?
I THINK I JUST FAILED A MATH TEST BECAUSE I WAS THINKING OF U 2 MUCH
WHAT RHYMES WITH SODOMY TRIAL?
BOTTOM ME, KYLE?
BTW – ITS 4 THE SCENE WHEN OSCAR WILD’S GHOST COMES TO ME IN A DREAM.
Will feels like a Green character, especially when he meets a member of Tiny’s Gay Straight Alliance named Jane, someone he feels a mixture of ambivalence and desire towards. In the novel she has a boyfriend, and then an ex-boyfriend, and then a boyfriend again, one who reads her poems over the phone. When Jane tells him that her boyfriend read her an e.e. cummings poem, Will leaves her a note that says
Just so you know: e.e. cummings cheated on both of his wives. With prostitutes.
Levithan’s Will Grayson is another character altogether. Deep in the throes of depression, Will relies on antidepressants to keep him at a careful, easy level of day-to-day life. He spends much of his time talking to Isaac online, a guy he has never met before, but has been talking to for long enough that a real life meeting is almost inevitable. When he talks to Isaac, he notes, “issac knows how stupid i find these things, and he finds them just as stupid as i do. like lol. now, if there’s anything stupider than buddy lists, it’s lol. if anyone ever uses lol with me, i rip my computer right out of the wall and smash it over the nearest head. i mean, its not like anyone is laughing out loud about the things they lol. i think it should be spelled loll, like what a lobotomized person’s tongue does. loll. loll. i can’t think any more. loll. loll!”
This Will speaks all in lowercase, which Levithan notes is because “that’s how he sees himself. He is a lowercase person. He is used to communicating online, where people are encouraged to be lowercase people. His whole self-image is what he projects in that space, and his one comfortable form of communication is when he’s anonymous and sending instant messages.” In real life, Will keeps to himself. He’s friends with a girl named Maura, but this doesn’t seem like it’s by choice. Will seems like he doesn’t understand how friendships work. Sitting in the cafeteria at lunch he notes, “when i look at the guys and girls at the other tables, i wonder what they could possibly have to say to each other. they’re all so boring and they’re all trying to make up for it by talking louder. i’d rather just sit here and eat.” When perusing his Facebook, he thinks, “i have a friendship request from some stranger on facebook and i delete it without looking at the profile because that doesn’t seem natural. ‘cause friendship should not be as easy as that.”
The two Wills are very different, but similar aspects of friendships, relationships, and day-to-day experience begin to crossover in the early chapters of this book. When Levithan’s Will finally decides to meet Isaac in Chicago, the two characters intersect, and end up having their worlds overlap. Their early conversations, the first time they meet and discover they have the same name, shows the ease and familiarity innate in sharing “Will Grayson.”
For example, when Isaac doesn’t show up, and Will discovers why, he trusts the other Will Grayson enough to explain to him what is going on:
o.w.g.’s looking very concerned now. so I put my hand over the phone for a second and speak to him.
me: i’m actually not okay. in fact, I am probably having the worst minute of my life. don’t go anywhere.
Green’s Will tries to put him at ease in terms of a comparison, and even though the other Will hates comparisons, there is something in the ones that Will provides that connect with him, or at least distract him:
o.w.g.: i’m afraid we’re in new territory here. my best friend tiny was once going to enter me into seventeen magazine’s boy of the month contest without telling me, but i don’t think that’s really the same thing.
me: how did you find out?
o.w.g.: he decided he needed someone to proofread his entry, so he asked me to do it.
In this back and forth way, Green and Levithan examine the intersecting lives of two teenagers who share the same name, and how they affect one another when they meet. They are confronted with an “other” them, someone with something very familiar and recognizable, but each of them exhibits characteristics that the other doesn’t. Their two separate worlds start to orbit one another, changing their lives in a humorous, and affecting, way.