[Book Review] Will Grayson, Will Grayson

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In today’s world of information, exposure and judgement, going unnoticed might seem to be the high school equivalent to heaven. One’s clothes, one’s body, one’s very thoughts are judged by the harsh society that inhabits the very grounds in which the development of personal qualities should be done. No institution seems to repress diversity with more efficiency than schools: we go in as potential artists and come out as an employee of Chaplin’s Modern Times factory. Students are faced, at early age, with a question that is highly unfair: is giving up on being yourself better than to feel punished for being who you really are?

Will Grayson, Will Grayson (John Green and David Levithan, paperback by Puffin, 336 pages long) is bold enough to address that issue. The book tells the story of two boys, both named Will Grayson, who end up meeting by chance and affecting each other’s lives more than they ever imagined possible. Each Will Grayson has his own personality: one is a shy boy trying at his best to go by unnoticed while having a friend who feeds on attention; the other is a boy filled with anger at the world and trying to start a relationship with a guy he met online, Isaac.

Each Will Grayson was written by one of the authors: Will Grayson number one, by John Green, and number two (always written will grayson, without any capital letters on his chapters), by David Levithan. The idea, which might sound confusing at first, works splendidly well. Both authors impressed me for different reasons: John, by the constant quality of his writing, though there aren’t as many beautiful lines of his in this novel as there are on his other works. David Levithan shocked me at the complexity of his Will, who curses and spits, kicks and crumbles, but never gives in to the temptation of giving up on himself. Levithan seems to have tailored the words so they would fit his character perfectly – all the insults and shocking confessions of will grayson are even more compelling than those of John’s Will Grayson, which is a remarkable fact of its own.

With one Will so obsessed with fitting in and the other so desperately trying to be different, one might guess the book would risk being good by going cliche and leaving characters to fight against each other until the climax. Quite on the contrary: much like in real life, all these teenagers are able to learn from each other’s experiences and turn them into knowledge and wisdom. The secondary characters were so well built they deserve as much attention as the two Wills: my favorite character in the book, Will Grayson #1’s friend Tiny Cooper, is an overweight gay boy who doesn’t care in the slightest about anyone else’s opinion and has a self-confidence enviable by the vainest of people. Great main characters  give you a good premise; add great secondary characters and you’ll have the final touch for a good novel.

There is, however, one thing I disliked: the ending. I won’t spoil anything in this review (how annoying is it when people tell spoilers in book reviews?), but all I can say is that David’s last chapter sounded a bit like that final speech north-american movies seem to love so much, the one in which the main character stands up in the middle of an agog crowd and changes everyone’s lives with their words. I’ve always found those speeches more awkward than inspiring, more surreal than moving. The rest of the book had moved so incredibly well and in such a creative way I was left expecting a bolder finale than the one I got.

This is still, however, a nice book. Maybe it won’t touch the hearts of those who have always fit in, but it certainly gets it right for those of us who didn’t. Living in a society that encourages only small differences as a form of keeping reality from radical change, embracing our singularities may seem like a herculean and suicidal mission, but it is just the first act of courage needed in order to give our lives some purpose. If living isn’t faced as an endless attempt at building, constructing, changing ourselves and our whereabouts, it isn’t living at all. It’s killing time.

[Book Review] The Statistical Probability Of Love At First Sight

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I have never believed in love at first sight. Not in the boy-looks-at-girl-and-they-see-that-their-lives-mean-nothing-unless-they-are-together sort of way. Sure, it sometimes works on some very romantic, highly idealist movies, but it always sounded to me more like passion than real love.

Maybe that has to do, though, with what you consider love at first sight to be in the first place. When I first started reading The Statistical Probability Of Love At First Sight (Jennifer E. Smith, paperback by Poppy, 236 pages long), I wasn’t so sure I was going to fall for the characters just as they fall in love with each other – and, when romance is involved, the reader has to fall for the characters or everything sounds fake, plastic, inorganic. I did.

The magic of Smith’s book stands on the fact that it isn’t, despite its title, all about love, and that the love it contains doesn’t happen, in fact, precisely at first sight. The main characters, Hadley and Oliver, aren’t airheads waiting for love to give their life purpose, but people with real concerns, concerns so great they – at least for me – steal the show and make the book worth it all by themselves. Their relationships with their families are very credible and well built, described in a way that isn’t melodramatic (which would make the reader impatient for the romance parts), but has actual feeling. Unlike so many novels that give characters backgrounds just for the sake of filling up space, you can actually observe how these intricate relationships have made the characters who they are and how they affect what they are on the verge of becoming.

The best part of it all is still the romance. Oliver will make any girl swoon in ways he himself probably never imagined, by pure accident, simply because of his charming personality. And what makes this a great love story is the fact that it is, indeed, love, and not pure passion or lust: these characters get to know each other, their flaws included, and only then fall in love. It reminded me of a line from John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars: “as he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once”. They slowly get to know each other – even if they do it in a short period of time, nothing is rushed – and fall in love yes, at first sight, but after a very, very good look.

Without any spoilers, I can also say the end is perfect. The only sad thing is that Smith writes so, so well that the reader has no choice but to become attached to these characters, which leaves one longing for more when it’s all over. I find it amusing that prose this simple can be so effective and delicate. As short and basic as it is, it manages to be a beautiful story about love in every meaning, every manner and with every sort of beginning. Love requires friendship, and great friendships do not require much time to happen.