Monday, May 2, 2011

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Teen depression and suicide was the theme of one of my previous posts. Because the topic is so important, I will mention another YA novel in which depression plays a significant role, and that is, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by authors John Green and David Levithan.

The book's title above links to a nice review, detailing the plot and characters. As one might expect from both these authors, intelligent humor permeates this book.

We meet two characters named Will Grayson.  One is straight and narrates odd numbered chapters. The Other Will Grayson narrates even chapters.

Other Will Grayson narrates without capital letters, a visual clue to the change in voice.  He begins chapter 2: "i am constantly torn between killing myself and killing everyone around me." He is depressed, frustrated, on antidepressants and socially isolated. As we follow this character's story, we discover something that seems universally true:  it's not a lover that lightens his hopelessness and frustration, but honest friendship. It turns out that both Will Graysons need the same thing, a friend.

Like real adolescents, these characters reveal internal thoughts and dialog laced with sexual fantasy and over the top language, though they aren't, we believe, sexually active. One wants a boy and the other wants a girl. But they themselves suspect that they aren't ready, are actually ambivalent about getting involved in sexual relationships beyond the book's heartfelt kissing. Straight Will Grayson says, concerning a girl he likes: "It's true that I want to smother her with compliments and true that I want to keep my distance. True that I want her to like me and true that I don't." He doesn't know what he wants.

Tiny Cooper, the bigger than life gay teen, the bridge between the two Will Graysons, shows us by his long list of ex-boyfriends, that being "in love" is not what he needs either. He needs friendship.

It seems that so much of what teens think they want and what adults think (fear?) teens want, has become sexualized. What does the cliche, hook-up, even mean? The book evokes this question: What is the truth about gay or straight teen sexuality? Shouldn't teens allow themselves, and be allowed by others, time to be unsure and consider his or her options from the sidelines?

For the characters in this novel, boy or girl, gay or straight, discovering friendship is the first step towards more complex relationships, no matter the sexual orientation. In sports, too, marathons aren't begun sprinting, but in a more measured pace. It's easier that way.

For parents and other adults who struggle to understand teens, who suffer from depression or not, this book is worth the read.

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