by Andy Mulligan
David Fickling/Random House
|Will Grayson, Will Grayson
by John Green and David Levithan
I was assigned novels featuring two unforgettable trios of guys: Raphael, Gardo, and Rat in Trash, and Tiny, Will, and Will in Will Grayson, Will Grayson. I loved all six of these boys. Focusing first on character, I felt like Meryl Streep as Sophie forced to choose between two sets of favorite sons—a virtually impossible task. So far, it was a tie.
I moved to setting. As usual, expert young adult writers David Levithan and John Green portrayed the angst and agony of life in America’s suburban high schools perfectly in Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Trash’s setting was fictional, but Andy Mulligan’s vivid descriptions brought to mind the squalor in several cities I’ve visited. Once again, when it came to setting, I had a tie.
Next I considered language. Clever turns of phrase, funny and moving dialog, rich vocabulary, and scrupulous avoidance of cliché gave Will Grayson, Will Grayson an edge over the more sparely told Trash. I wondered if this was partly due to the older target audience Levithan and Green had in mind, but nonetheless, the language point went to Will Grayson, Will Grayson.
What about plot? Both books were page turners. I tore through Trash, rooting for the boys in their impossible quest to escape the force of corrupt authority and start a new life without fear and suffering. In Will Grayson, Will Grayson, the narrative arc was compelling, but the interesting language and strong characterization (I didn’t want to stop spending time with Tiny, Jane, Gideon, and the Wills) kept me reading. The plot point had to go to Trash. I could easily picture reading this suspenseful Dickensian novel aloud to spellbound young people, reluctant readers as well as savvy bibliophiles.
For me, the final choice came down to theme. Will Grayson, Will Grayson adeptly explored the power of love (two of my favorite scenes were the redemptive gift of a glass bowl and a declaration of love in a baseball dugout), but Trash was about the love of power and the power of love. After the “weakest” characters in a story use street smarts and loyalty to outwit brutal police officers and cruel politicians, you close the book with an unmatched feeling of satisfaction. For a heartfelt, page-turning exploration of power, justice, friendship, and freedom, round one, match eight goes to … Trash by Andy Mulligan.
– Mitali Perkins
And the Winner of this match is…
Tiny Cooper is arguably the most memorable literary creation of the year, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson is one of the best books that John Green or David Levithan have written. I’m a little bit surprised it only got a Stonewall Honor and an Odyssey Honor at the ALA Youth Media Awards. Like Mitali, I didn’t want to stop spending time with these characters, but I also felt likewise about the Trash boys and their chilling story of power, greed, and corruption. The book reminded me of Mal Peet’s soccer novels (Keeper, The Penalty, and Exposure) but younger and more accessible. Since Trash was relatively unheralded, I’m very happy to see it advance to meet A Tale Dark and Grimm. How many of us had They Called Themselves the KKK meeting Will Grayson, Will Grayson in the next round? I know I did, and I bet I’m not the only one.
– Commentator Jonathan Hunt