Cannonball Read 6, Book 45: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan

18918102So this was an intriguing one. The two biggest YA superstars collaborate on a book, each writing alternate chapters, about two high school boys both named Will Grayson. John Green takes the straight Will, best friend to the biggest, gayest teen (ironically nicknamed Tiny, of course) while Levithan gives us the gay will, who is too cool to use capital letters at any point ever, but otherwise leads a tortured existence, prone to black moods and on medication to stabilise his moods. A freak turn of events sees the two Graysons intersect and their lives begin to move in different and unplanned directions.

I loved this book so hard. Both Green and Levithan capture the voices of their characters phenomenally well. It’s frequently hilarious, it punches you in the gut almost as often. I loved that Will Grayson Who Uses Caps loved to indulge in giving people the kind of nicknames that I like to give to people, when he christens a love rival “DouchePants McWaterPolo”. There is a LOT of talk about how huge Tiny is. “Imagine being hugged by a sofa. that’s what it feels like”. In terms of plot, it is both predictable and a little ridiculous. Tiny Cooper is writing a musical about his life that the school is going to put on. Of course, he and gay will end up seeing each other.

But the characters are so strong and the writing so spot on, that the inanity of the plot fades away into the background. The transition of gay will from spiky and dark to cautious romantic is beautiful and painful to read. When Tiny asks whether he minds if they hold hands, the response “the truth is, i do mind. but i know that since he’s my boyfriend, the answer should be that i don’t mind at all. he’d probably carry me to class in his arms if i asked him nicely” actually made me say “awwww”. Out loud. On public transport. I suspect how much people love this book does relate to how bearable and believable they find Tiny Cooper, but I loved that whether he was vastly ridiculous or not, he was not a caricature or a stereotype. Neither author talks down to their audience. It’s not every day you read a book where a relationship is mapped out using Schrodinger’s Cat as a template.

But the ending, the ending. Sigh. I tore through this book in no time at all and loved every page, right up to the final chapter. The final chapter is a bit of a fumble. It doesn’t end the way I wanted it to, but it also doesn’t really end in a believable or terribly satisfying way. It’s annoying in the extreme that such a wonderful novel takes a sharp turn into Blahville. I still loved it, but it ends up going just left of centre rather than nailing the bullseye.

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Cannonball Read 5, Book 105: The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

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When I first saw the film Billy Elliot, I said at the time that it overwhelmed me so much that I wanted to go out in the street and hug random strangers. With The Fault In Our Stars, I wanted to stage my own personal World Book Night. I wanted to buy 100 copies and hand them to random people, urging them to read it. It’s a beautiful and special piece of work that EVERYONE needs to read.

It was always going to be a tricky one for me to read, as our feisty teenage heroine Hazel Grace has an incurable cancer (not a terminal one, though really what IS the difference there?) and it’s one of those fuckers which stole my dad from us, so ya know. I expected it would make me a little weepy. I didn’t expect it to move me quite so epically and so often as it did. Hazel is strong-armed into going to Cancer Support Group by her over-protective parents and one day Augustus Waters comes along to the group. Hazel thinks he’s hot, then finds out he’s charming and then suddenly her life is on a very different path. Though it’s a path where cancer still comes along for the ride.

Hazel loves Augustus and I swear with God as my witness, if there’s a person out there who reads this book and doesn’t love him EVERY BIT AS MUCH (if not more) then that person has no soul. Hazel is in awe of him from minute one and she’s authentically teenage about it too: “Look, let me just say it: He was hot. A nonhot boy stares at you relentlessly and it is, at best, awkward, and, at worst, a form of assault. But a hot boy….. well.” And that’s the kicker. Not only has Green written teenagers who sound like teenagers (intelligent, erudite ones to be sure, but teenagers all the same), they don’t sound like they have a bad case of Dawson’s-Creek-itis to go with their cancers. And the approach they have to their illness, irreverent and determined, feels so much more real than having them mope around feeling sorry for themselves and waiting to die.

A large part of the book is taken up with Hazel’s desire to track down the author of her favourite book, An Imperial Affliction. It too is about a teenage girl fighting cancer and famously ends mid-sentence. Hazel simply HAS TO KNOW what happened next so keeps writing to the author. Except he is a recluse who lives in Amsterdam and never writes her back. And so Augustus (having fallen in love with AIA as well as with Hazel) spends his Wish from the Make A Wish Foundation on a trip to Amsterdam. Normally, a teen romance would have me puking on my shoes, but the whole Amsterdam section made me alternately joyful and weepy.

Peter Van Houten, the author of AIA, is an alcoholic mess and disappoints them both with his actions when them meet him. Refusing to answer Hazel’s questions, Augustus pledges that he will write her a sequel instead. He’s that kind of guy. But life gets in the way, Van Houten gets a shot at redemption and when Hazel finally reads what Augustus wrote, well. It’s possibly the most achingly beautiful thing I’ve read all year.

Reading this book really brings it home as to why I absolutely bloody love books. It is easily in my top ten books that I have read this year. Some books when you recommend them to people, you’ll say “yeah it’s really funny” or “it’s so exciting to read” or some such. With this book, if I may quote those South Park boys in a very different context, all I can say is “this book will change your life”. So read it. I hope you love it. Because I do, John Green. I do.