Will Grayson, Will Grayson

by John Green

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1175

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a young adult novel cowritten by John Green and David Levithan. The book is told from the point of view of two teenage boys, both named Will Grayson. In Chicago, the first Will Grayson is best friends with Tiny Cooper, a homosexual football player. The other Will Grayson, a homosexual from Naperville that suffers from depression, tells the second story. After Will Grayson and Will Grayson discover each other, Green and Levithan use their characters to explore themes of love, honesty, and friendship.

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Will Grayson’s father says that you can pick friends, but "you can’t pick your friend’s nose." However, Will Grayson admits that he never picked his friend “Tiny” Cooper. Tiny is

the largest person who is really, really gay, and also the gayest person who is really, really large.

Tiny and Will grew apart after Tiny became president of the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA), but they recently became friends again after Will wrote in the school newspaper defending Tiny against complaints that he should not be allowed to change in the locker room. When the novel opens, Will joins Tiny and his friend on a trip to see a concert rumored to be the reunion of the band Neutral Milk Hotel.

The night does not go as planned. The venue is open only to those aged 21 and over, and although Tiny and his friend Jane have fake IDs, Will does not. Will manages to sneak in, only to discover that the rumor is false and the band is not Neutral Milk Hotel. Tiny and his friends resolve to have a good time anyway, but the night is ruined when Tiny discovers that his latest boyfriend has broken up with him by status update on Facebook. Tiny is devastated and proceeds to get drunk. Jane and Will take a blubbering Tiny Cooper home. As the football player passes out, Will finds himself picking his friend’s nose so that he will be able to breathe.

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Will Grayson’s life sounds difficult, but it is not nearly as dark as the life of Will Grayson of Naperville. Will writes exclusively in lowercase letters and readily admits that he is “constantly torn between killing myself and killing everyone around me.” This Will is friends with Maura, who is goth. Will explains that they are connected by their obsessions with doom and gloom. Will is also friends with Simon and Derek from the mathletes team. At home, Will and his mother manage to stay above the poverty line, but not by much. The best part of Will’s day is when he meets with Isaac online. Isaac and Will have never met, but they consider themselves to be in a long-distance relationship.

The doom and gloom of Naperville Will Grayson’s life stands in stark contrast to Chicago Will Grayson’s life. Tiny has asked Will to come to the next Gay Straight Alliance meeting to boost the club’s numbers. Tiny needs as much support as he can get if he is going to be able to produce his musical Tiny Dancer: The Life of Tiny Cooper. Jane is also a member of the GSA. When it is revealed that Jane is straight, Tiny starts trying to get Jane and Will to start dating. However, Will’s rules are as follows: “1. Shut up. 2. Don’t care too much. And 3. Never kiss a girl you like.” However, Tiny convinces everyone to go out again to see another show. By the time they get to the show, Will has resolved to pursue Jane after all.

This show is also for those 21 and older, so Jane takes Will to get an ID. Along the way, Jane offers to kiss Will, but he does not reciprocate. They get Will a fake ID under the name Ishmael J. Biafra. However, when they arrive at the show that weekend, it turns out that Will’s fake ID has him as only 20. Will decides to spend the duration of the show waiting at a hotdog parlor. When he sees an adult book store, Frankie’s, he resolves to use his fake ID to buy a pornographic magazine so he will have a funny story for Jane and Tiny when they leave the show.

Meanwhile, Will Grayson from Naperville has traveled to Chicago to meet Isaac for the first time. Isaac has said to meet at Frankie’s, which Will discovers is an adult bookstore. Daunted but determined to give Isaac a chance, he enters and meets the other Will Grayson. The two Will Graysons share their stories before they each receive a phone call. Neither receives good news: Maura reveals that she made Isaac up as a joke and Jane reveals that she got back together with her ex-boyfriend while at the show. Will of Chicago resolves to continue pursuing Jane, and Will from Naperville meets and starts dating Tiny Cooper.

Back at school, Tiny Cooper starts auditions for Tiny Dancer, the musical adaptation of his life. Although auditions have begun, the script is still in revision. Tiny realizes that the subject of the musical has to stop being about Tiny and start being about love, so he changes the name of the musical to Hold Me Closer. His childhood friend Will convinces him to change the name of the character Gil Wrayson to Phil Wrayson, though everyone knows exactly who the character is meant to represent. When Tiny reveals Phil Wrayson’s characteristics—that his attempts not to be a drama queen are annoying, obvious, and reveal Will’s deeply felt insecurities—the two friends find themselves distanced from each other. Around this time, Will begins to date Jane.

Life in Naperville has changed dramatically. Will tells his mother and his friends that he is gay, and he begins to punish Maura with silence. However, being “out” is easier than he expects, and he even makes a “new gay friend,” Gideon. Although Will and Tiny are able to connect on the Internet, their relationship starts to feel stress when Tiny drives to Naperville to meet Will’s mom, Anne. Will is bothered by Tiny’s wealth and is embarrassed by his home. He is also embarrassed by his depression. By their next date, they break up. Will argues that Tiny loves Will’s “need” and not Will himself. Tiny responds that no one appreciates him.

Back in Chicago, Jane convinces Will to talk to Tiny, and they heal their friendship just in time for Hold Me Closer to debut. Before the show, Tiny is a wreck, and he nearly loses his voice after eating and vomiting tainted burritos. Tiny worries that the show will fail and that his ex-boyfriend Will Grayson will not come to see it. However, the show is a great success, and Will and Gideon drive from Naperville to attend. At the end, Will from Naperville goes onstage and spontaneously declares that he appreciates Tiny Cooper; the audience spontaneously repeats the declaration. The play and the book end with resounding applause.


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Last Updated on January 11, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1009

Authors: John Green (b. 1977) and David Levithan (b. 1972)

First published: 2010

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Realism

Time of plot: Present day

Locale: Suburban Chicago

Principal characters

Will Grayson, a straight teenage boy who is afraid of caring too much and getting hurt

Will Grayson, a gay teenage boy with the same name who shares similar fears

Tiny Cooper, the gay, six-foot-six best friend of straight Will

Maura, the other Will's nosy, goth friend

Jane, Tiny's intellectual friend who is active in the school's Gay Straight Alliance (GSA)

The Story

John Green and David Levithan write alternating chapters about two teenage boys with the same name in the 2010 novel Will Grayson, Will Grayson. The first Will Grayson is kind but aloof. He mostly plays second fiddle to his longtime best friend Tiny Cooper, a massive and flamboyantly gay football player. Tiny turns pirouettes in the hallways and openly weeps in class at the end of each of his short-lived relationships. Tiny may be self-centered, but he is big-hearted—his friend Will is not nearly so comfortable in his own skin, preferring to follow strict rules of nonengagement when it comes to relationships (romantic and otherwise) to avoid the pain of inevitable parting. Meanwhile, in another suburb of Chicago, another teenager named Will Grayson (or will grayson, as his story is written entirely in lowercase) suffers from depression. He struggles with his own self-loathing, mustering up just enough energy to make it to school every day so he can come home and chat online with Isaac, a boy he met in a chat room. His only other friend—to use the term loosely—is a morbid and angsty poet named Maura. Maura has a crush on Will, but rather than tell her he likes boys, Will is content to let their friendship sail along on a wave of sarcasm.Courtesy of Penguin Young Readers

The first Will's story begins as Tiny tries to convince him to join the school's Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). As always, Tiny's mission has more than one purpose: he wants to set Will up with Jane, a snarky and smart girl and club member, but also drum up more support for a production of a musical—Tiny Dancer, later retitled Hold Me Closer—based on his life. Tiny succeeds on one front. The student council agrees to fund Tiny's production, but Will just ends up hurting Jane's feelings. He is unable to decide whether he likes her or not until it is too late—it turns out she still likes her old boyfriend, a sexy, older water polo player. For the other Will, life is a bit darker. He and Isaac finally decide to meet—at a place called Frenchy's in Chicago—but when he arrives, he finds out the place is a sleazy porn shop. Isaac is not there, but the other Will Grayson is, rooting around for a gag gift for Tiny and Jane because he could not get into a concert with his fake ID card.

The two Wills meet, and then Will (the one there to meet Isaac) gets a call from Maura. There is no Isaac, she says; she made him up in an effort to get closer to Will. Will, understandably, is devastated, but as the concert lets out, Tiny appears to comfort him. The straight Will is able to express some of his feelings for Jane, but it is Tiny and the other Will who form the most intense bond in that moment. They begin dating, and Will is inspired to come out to his mother and acquaintances.

But the two Wills still have more to learn. At the root of their more nuanced interactions, both boys learn that love, in both romance and friendship, can be extraordinarily difficult but also immensely rewarding. Will and Tiny ultimately break up; Jane and the other Will get together; and the novel ends in the spectacle of Tiny's musical, which features a character named "Phil Wrayson." Just before the play's opening, Tiny expresses frustration that his caring for others goes unappreciated. The Wills orchestrate a moving tribute to Tiny at the end of his play, the last scene of the novel, to make up for it.

Critical Evaluation

The American Library Association's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table (GLBTRT) named Will Grayson, Will Grayson as an honor book for the 2011 Stonewall Book Award, which recognizes excellence in LGBTQ literature. Will Grayson, Will Grayson is hardly the first young-adult novel to feature gay characters, but the book was notable for its complex rendering of them. Unlike most gay teens in novels, Tiny is not worried about coming out—he already has. The arc of his story involves his friendship with the two Wills and, notably, how he wants to tell his own story in his play. Coming out is a part of the gay Will Grayson's storyline, although it is a footnote to his larger conflict, which he shares with the straight Will: learning how to love another person.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson was written by two authors, with Green writing the odd-numbered chapters from the straight Will's perspective and Levithan writing the even-numbered chapters from the point of view of the gay Will. However, the novel has a lot in common with Green's other novels, the most famous of which is The Fault in Our Stars (2012). Green's characters are funny and sharp. Many of them can quote poetry or, like Jane, explain complicated scientific concepts with ease. They also grapple with deep philosophical questions that offset the humor of their interactions.

Further Reading

  • Marler, Regina. "Under the Spotlight." Review of Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan. The New York Times, 18 June 2010, www.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/books/review/Marler-t.html. Accessed 22 Mar. 2017.
  • Review of Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan. Kirkus, 15 Mar. 2010, www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/john-green/will-grayson-will-grayson. Accessed 22 Mar. 2017.
  • Review of Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan. Publishers Weekly, 1 Apr. 2010, www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-525-42158-0. Accessed 22 Mar. 2017.

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