Thursday, April 29, 2010

Finding Ourselves in Fiction

Many of us turned to books when we couldn’t turn to our peers or our parents. If you’ve read through my list of Twenty Classics for teens, you already know that I learned about puberty from Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. Some topics just seem too private to discuss with anyone else.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan tackles two of the toughest topics for young men to talk about with others: friendship with a gay male, and knowing that you’re gay but not ready to come out openly. Through the alternating first person narratives of Will Grayson and will grayson, Green and Levithan create fully formed characters who grapple with these issues sometimes clunkily and sometimes gracefully—just as teens themselves do.

The first Will Grayson (created by John Green) is a straight male whose defense of larger-than-life Tiny results in, as you might have guessed, Will also being called gay. Then there’s will grayson (created by David Levithan) who knows he’s gay but has told no one except for an online friend named Isaac, whom he arranges to meet and which occasions his chance introduction to the other Will Grayson.

Next there’s Jane, who Will thinks may or may not be gay, but who is a member of the gay alliance at school and a friend of Tiny’s. And then there’s Maura, who has an unrequited crush on will. Will and will, Tiny and Jane offend their friends, then win them back; at times one friend seems to have all the power, then it shifts back to the other friend, and sometimes they even shoulder the burden equally. This book is as much about how to communicate honestly with friends and—yes—parents, as it is about the first stirrings of attraction, and even love.

There is so much for your teen to mine here about common missteps in friendship and romance, not to mention the trademark humor of both authors (John Green you may know from Paper Towns, and David Levithan from his co-authorship with Rachel Cohn on Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, the inspiration for the feature film of the same name). What are books but emotional laboratories, where we can test our theories about other people, and safely explore our ideas about ourselves.


  1. Hi Jenny-I'm a librarian in Ohio who agrees with your assessment of Will Grayson, Will Grayson. I wish more school librarians were supported by administrations enough to add it to their collections. I wasn't as crazy about The Lonely Hearts Club that you recommended a few posts ago. The writing just didn't seem very strong. But then again I didn't really care for Twilight, either. Thanks for your blog: I use it as a collection development tool.

  2. Kathy, thanks for your note! I really admire those of you in the trenches who are trying to make books available to young people on a wide range of topics, some of them controversial but so important for the development of young people on the brink of adulthood. I'm glad you enjoyed Will Grayson. What I like so much about Lonely Hearts Club was the way the author acknowledged how romantic relationships often disrupt female friendships and corrupt girls' own sense of identity. I haven't found many books that take this on as the main theme.