Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a stunning portrayal of teen angst, not for the sake of angst. Rich characters that are beginning in completely different places meet and come away changed. The style of writing is nonconformist, losing punctuation and capitalization in even-numbered chapters as well as squishing together dialogue in the odd numbers. It explored themes and struggles that many authors touch on, but never fully embrace. The depression struggle, the hope and prayer that someone out there can love you or appreciate you, straight/gay friendships that don’t fall into the straight-chick-gay-guy combo. I fell in love with this book from chapter 1. John Green as a start was a brilliant choice; had they began with David Levithan’s much darker Grayson, it would have set a different tone for the rest of the novel. I definitely think this novel is a must-read for teens. Beautifully dark, sometimes sweet and always honest, the Will Graysons reminded me of when I was a teen (all those years ago), when it was so hard to connect with others and let them connect with me. I came away from this novel not with tears, but with a smile.
Peter Norton Symphony Space let in a flow of librarians, young readers, and inquisitive minds such as my own and my sidekick also known as my boyfriend. Peppy girls with ironic t-shirts and choppy haircuts clutched books written by the authors they waited so anxiously to see.
In line, I met a youth holding onto a tattered but obviously loved copy of Looking for Alaska. I asked if I could see it and he happily let me. He was hyper skinny with glasses, I felt that if he played an instrument it would be something underrated, like the oboe. His friend came up from the front of the line, claiming tickets from the will-call. Not so skinny, but definitely just as devoted to John Green. Skinny-with-glasses gave me his blog, which I planned to link, but there was a typo in what he wrote. So if he comments and gives me the correct link, I will happily share.
The entrance contained a table with books to buy. I could have repurchased Naomi & Eli’s No Kiss List, a book I lost to a close friend. I chose to hope for its return instead. I also regretted not bringing along my copy of Boy Meets Boy, which always fills me with hope when I read it.
The crowd is composed of more female readers, but I was really glad to see some teen boys around because they really like the authors, rather than being forced to attend by a girlfriend. The couple beside me were exactly like that. She sat with manicured and spastic hands and an iPhone with an app for being hip. Her boyfriend wore a trendy blazer and glasses he probably didn’t need hooked on his shirt front. He waved around an iPhone, too.
Two chairs adorn the stage, a table between with clear plastic cups serving as centerpieces. A bottle of water sits beneath the table, waiting to be emptied. The longer we sit, the more the talking cascades into a crescendo and repeats. The excitement is a low buzz that charges the air we breathe.
Lights dim, an excited hush. An explosion of whoops and applause as three figures stride out onto stage. A small woman introduced herself as Kathy Minton, the director of Symphony Space. She begged that we don’t take flash photography so Green and Levithan stood for one big photo opportunity.
Green began by reading an excerpt from chapter 15, in which his Will Grayson goes to Jane’s house to ask her a question about Schroedinger’s cat. Levithan picked up with an excerpt from chapter 2, in which his Will Grayson expresses his anger towards the idiocies of the internet. They remind me of their Will Graysons, so vastly different but bound together by something wonderful. Green fidgets like a nervous habit, rubbing his curly hair and looking down at his shoes. Levithan remains cool and relaxed. It comforts me as a public speaker that they stumble over their own words at least once. Their readings are filled with what makes the Will Grayson characters unique; sarcasm, fear, anger, and hesitant love. Their work is filled with humor and the crowd loves every second of it. I am enraptured as they bring to life these wonderful Graysons and their hearts.Their conversation began with lighthearted laughter and joking around.
John Green initiated questioning, asking David Levithan to take the lead in explaining where Will Grayson, Will Grayson came from. From there we heard quirky stories about true mishaps (from confusing self proclaimed oafish Levithan for graceful dancer Levinthal, to every 1 out of 8 people being named John Green, and the argument over whether trolls are really people. I think they are, too Mr. Green). Green and Levithan explained the X shaped narrative. “The characters would start in very different places, […] they meet in the very middle of the novel and they sort of go their separate ways but having sort of switched some things in their lives as a result of that meeting.”
Levithan was also prompted to talk about coincidence, having explored the idea in his previous novels and doing so to a very heavy extent in this particular one. When asked if the universe connected people or if people did the connecting on their own, Levithan confirmed his faith in the latter. “I don’t feel that all of this has been choreographed.” I feel his attitude showed heavily in the novel. The characters were not created to become part of each other. They were created to be themselves and just so happened to move through each other’s lives and left behind an effect.
Another topic they discussed was having a kinship with those that share your name. Are you bound to uphold the personal sacred beliefs of everyone in the world that claims your same name? Does that really create something special between you? In a way it does. There’s something oddly exciting about meeting someone and being able to say “Hey, I answer to that, too.” How often do we meet people that share our name? Sure we google ourselves and see thousands of entries (as John Green complained about, but he said it became easier within the past couple of years), but how often do we come face to face with someone so unlike ourselves yet similar enough to share our name? It’s that slight chance, that off beat coincidence that turns us on our head. In the end, it comes back to Shakespeare. What is really in a name?
As part of the event, Green and Levithan decided to hold a writing experiment. We were given the following prompt: Write a scene where two characters with the same name meet. You are to pick their name, the day they will meet and the place. Oh, and we got five minutes. There were a lot of references to Starbucks coffee chains and a lot of contrasting ideas. Some great writing sprang from the five minutes. I heard about a trekkie and a very non-trekkie sharing a name and being at the same convention, a coffee buyer and coffee maker on opposite ends of the mood spectrum, Juilia and Guilia, as well as something about whales. Here’s what I cranked out:
Luna White stood outside Alabaster Books thinking about whether or not she should go in. The glass door opened and a breeze of cool air carried the dusty book smell out to her. She caught sight of herself in the window. Fingerprints smudged where her eyes should be. She took a breath and went in against her better judgment.
I really shouldn’t buy another–T.H WHITE! She stopped her thought as she studied the hold hardback.
“Book of Merlyn, first printing. Found it hiding between a set of glassware up in New Paltz.” Luna turned to see a girl standing behind her wearing a nametag upside down. Her hair was asymmetrical and so were her clothes.
“What’s your name?” Luna asked, squinting to read the upside down letters.
“Oh,” the girl looked down and adjusted her nametag so the upright letters read Luna.
I had only five minutes and half an idea what to do, give me a break. Some of the writers read aloud, getting feedback from Green and Levithan (both apparently love the Starbucks references). There was a broad range of writers, from younger teens to older ones, from boys to girls. From talented writers to, well, not so much. It was still a great chance to see how different our five minute scenes came out. We all had a different way to see the scene and different ways for characters to react.
After the project concluded, the Q&A with the audience began. Green and Levithan revealed that some characters weren’t exactly based on actual people but actual friendships. The punctuation of the novel was a very big thing for me to find out about. It was so peculiar to me that there would be no capitalization at all, nor would there be conventional dialogue punctuation. Levithan explained it as a way to delineate the character from reality. His life was an internet chat, he wished so much that real life conversations would take on the same sense of IMs, blurring the lines of conversation. It showed innovation to think of punctuation in that way. As writers and as students we are trained to use punctuation very strictly, to see it all fall away in a novel does very interesting things with the way the reader views not only the events, but the narrator relaying these events.
As always, someone asks for advice on behalf of young writers everywhere. “Give yourself permission to [mess] up.” Levithan (kind of) said. He and Green continued to tell the audience that it was about writing for the sake of writing, not for the sake of being published. It wasn’t about having a product that people can buy off the shelf, but having a product for yourself to call completed and be proud of.
Questioning hit the usual bases; what books inspired you to write? (Catcher in the Rye for Green, because the vividness of pain was more real than anyone he actually knew, and Dinner at Homesick Restaurant for Levithan, because it helped him to see the use of magical realism and the meaning in everyday life). How did you handle writing each other’s characters? (quite simply, they trusted each other).
After the questioning ended, it was time to let the magic of the intimate Symphony Space end. We came togther to see into the minds of men that opened their hearts to us through their novel. When the lights came up, they left the stage with our applause ushering them out. We were escorted out into the broad sunshine. A new line formed so that we could wait ever so patiently to have our sacred tomes signed by our heroes. My handsome sidekick was so impressed with John Green in all his geeky glory, he immediately purchased Paper Towns so he could better experience what Green is all about. I was just as excited because now I can just borrow it from him. Waiting in line, we were harassed with post-it notes with our names scrawled on them, where to put them, how to fold in the flaps of our book jackets, and so on. It was all worth it for finally getting up to that table and being able to tell these amazing guys how much of an influence they are.
Find out more about John Green’s vlog by clicking here. As for David Levithan, click here for his web site. Their books are available at all major booksellers (Borders, Barnes & Noble, Amazon).
EDIT: Skinny-With-Glasses exists! His name is Martin and his blog is here. He’s rather witty and nerdy all at once. His movie reviews are pretty enticing.