I wish I knew how I came to download the sample for Will Grayson, Will Grayson – I’m pretty sure a friend who does book reviews recced it but I can’t find any trace of the conversation. And that’s a shame because I really owe someone a thank you – John Green and David Levithan have created what is an almost perfect delight of a narrative.
Will Grayson is a highschooler living in a suburb of Chicago. He’s got two rules: 1) shut up and 2) don’t care. Will Grayson is a highschooler living in a different suburb of Chicago. He’s living with depression and it’s time to meet his online boyfriend in person. When Will Grayson meets Will Grayson, things start happening.
Both Will Graysons are well-drawn and interesting characters in their own rights. There is distinct development in both characters that is natural and really wonderfully to see. At various points, I disagree with them and I worried about them – but I never felt bored with them, even though I often have a hard time feeling super connected to fictional teenaged boys.
The second Will Grayson’s issues with depression – which are handled really honestly and there is no magical cure – are one of the strongest parts of the book. Both the inability of those around him to really GET it and his own coping methods for making it through are kind of painfully honest.
And then there is Tiny Cooper.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson is written in chapters that alternate the point of view. The first chapter is one Will Grayson, the next chapter is the other Will Grayson, and it progresses steadily and regularly. We only see Tiny Cooper through the eyes of the two Will Graysons – but, man, oh, man, the things we see.
Here’s the thing: Tiny Cooper is huge. He’s fat, he’s tall, he’s large in every conceivable way. He’s also gay and very out. He plays football and writes muscials. He’s kind of mythic. And he’s the first Will Grayson’s best friend. Will Grayson’s initial point of likability, in fact, (other than his love for Neutral Milk Hotel) is his staunch defense of Tiny’s right to be whatever the hell Tiny wants to be, even while he regrets the attention this draws to himself.
This is one of my favorite sentences in the entire book:
He may be a malevolent sorcerer, but Tiny Cooper is his own goddamned man, and if he wants to be a gigantic skipper, then that’s his right as a huge American.
There is no stepping carefully around Tiny’s size – it’s notable and it’s part of his identity and it’s part of the original Will Grayson’s world. But when Will Grayson #1 comments upon it, I never get a sense of maliciousness. In fact, the phrase “that’s his right as a huge American” cracks my shit right up.
I don’t think size has to be ignored – in fact, ignoring it would be kind of a damn stupid thing to do. Will’s amazed, every single day, by Tiny squeezing himself into the actually tiny student desk chairs. It’s an amazing thing! Will and Jane (who figures quite nicely in all of this, lest you think it is a boys-only party, though Maura is far, far less sympathetic) can’t lift Tiny while he’s passed out – outside of the book I have to wonder a bit about that but inside the book, it’s just a thing, a reality of life with Tiny.
Tiny’s size is simply part of who he is – and he is a large, loud, flamboyant, young man who falls in love the way other people change underpants. Tiny Cooper is a planet, he’s a super hero, he’s the main character even when he’s supposed to be a secondary figure. Tiny Cooper is also, sometimes, an asshole. And he’s got his own insecurities and issues – and that’s what prevents him from being a caricature of the scrappy sidekick we see so often on tv.
Will Grayson the second, the lowercase will grayson, if you will, because his sections are written entirely in lowercase, also intersects with Tiny. Which is to say he dates Tiny. He is sexual with Tiny.
But that’s actually where the sour notes come in to play. Because as much as I get the reality of it….
There’s a part where will grayson is surprised (repeatedly) that he is attracted to this very fat Tiny. It isn’t the surprise that trips me up – it’s a very specific line about how Tiny is surprisingly awesome even though other fat people get sweaty just raising the Twinkie to their mouths.
will grayson still invites Tiny to meet his mother, introduces Tiny to people as his boyfriend. He isn’t ASHAMED of Tiny – but he’s all-too-aware of how Tiny surprises people.
I can forgive the rest of his comments for the sake of character growth. But that one line about the Twinkies? That one line is just pure nastiness. It doesn’t strengthen the scene or give us anything to grow the character – all it shows us is that, unfortunately, like other teenaged boys have shown us, fat people have reason to be slightly afraid of will grayson.
In the end, Tiny’s fatness does not change – and the ending is kind of grand in a way that made me a little sniffly on the airplane.
This book walks a really fine line at times. I don’t believe we can have meaningful books about certain evils in the world (like oppression) without depicting that oppression. Will #1′s defense of Tiny’s gayness is only meaningful because there ARE people who call Tiny names. This is no hollow defense. Fat hate is depicted because it’s a real thing – it’s surprising for will grayson to find himself dating this improbable person. So I don’t want deny the validity of the character’s responses; even as a fat reader who flinched a bit, I don’t want to deny will grayson the chance to realize that, yes, Tiny is really very attractive despite never having considered fat people attractive before.
But I also could have done without the suckerpunch of the genuine fat hate that bled through.
There are, of course, some other issues – “lame” is excruciatingly common in usage. There’s a line about Tiny’s polyamory being bad for the team (he’s not even actually polyamorous) that seems like exactly the type of stupid shit teenaged boys would say about polyamory when they don’t really understand it.
Even with its flaws, though, I have to recommend Will Grayson, Will Grayson. I’m kind of in love with it. I’m in love with Will #1′s struggle to take risks and make decisions and stop being so passive in his own life out of fear and I’m kind of in love with will grayson’s willingness to take risks when he realizes that things are worth it and his relationship with his mother and the way he refuses to be ashamed. I’m in love with Tiny Cooper – and I appreciate him. (You’ve got to read about his musical Tiny Dancer, which is the Tiny Cooper story but also a story about love.) I wish there were more girls in the story – it’s definitely the story of two young men in predominantly cis-male social circle, and I wish the casual ableism weren’t quite so at odds with the sensitively handled portrayal of depression. And I really, really, really wish there hadn’t been that thin spot, that bare patch that makes me wonder how the authors really feel about Tiny Cooper and the other people like him, the fat people. Are we just sweaty blobs to them, Twinkies clutched in our paws?
I don’t know. And it makes me uncomfortable and conflicted. AND SAD. Because I kind of want to make everyone read this book. I want to whole-heartedly and without reservation recommend it. Instead, I must sit back and remember: it need not be a swoon. I can recommend it – and I DO – while acknowledging its flaws. And I can warn you – if you’re feeling sensitive, I’d skip it. It’s an amazing book and, in large part, the discomfort pays off in spades. In the end, Tiny Cooper knows he isn’t traditionally beautiful. And he keeps on falling in love (and making out with other boys) because it’s the only thing he can do. How can I fail to do the same?
This entry was posted in Uncategorized
. Bookmark the permalink
. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post
or leave a trackback: Trackback URL