You Can Pick Your Friends, and You Can Pick Your Nose, but You Can't Pick Your Friends Nose... Or Can You?


John Green & David Levithan, Will Grayson, Will Grayson. New York, New York: the Penguin Group, 2011.

"You know what's important? Who would you die for? Who would you wake up at five forty-five in the morning for even though you don't even know why he needs you? Whose drunken nose would you pick?!" (259).
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Will Grayson, Will Grayson, written by John Green and David Levithan takes readers through the lives of two seemingly opposite high schoolers, both of whom are named Will Grayson. With Green writing the odd numbered chapters and Levithan writing the even numbered chapters, Will Grayson, Will Grayson tells the unlikely story of strangers who cross paths and find their lives going in unforseen directions. Green's Grayson is the best friend of Tiny Cooper, the "world's largest person who is really, really gay" (3), and is realizing that life isn't what he thought it was. Levithan's Grayson is an angst-ridden boy exploring his sexuality through his long-time internet companion, Isaac. When both Will Graysons meet unexpectedly in a specialty store in Chicago, their lives change forever.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson puts emphasis on the LGBTQ community through the characters of Tiny Cooper and Levithan's Will Grayson. Tiny Cooper, who intertwines himself with both Will Graysons, is heavily involved in his school's Gay-Straight Alliance, or GSA, and aims to spread awareness about gay love through the musical about his life, Hold Me Closer. Levithan's Will Grayson struggles with finding his own voice through discovering his own homosexuality. Levithan, who is experienced in creating strong, homosexual characters (see: Boy Meets Boy, Levithan's 2003 novel), puts into words the battle of becoming comfortable in your own skin.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a novel that contains every element in attracting a young adult audience. Green and Levithan have a way of making the reader relate to both Will Grayson characters. The story is filled with romance, humor, drama and teen angst, captivating each reader and teaching them about the remainder of hope, the importance of friendship and about acceptance in a time in their lives where pure teen reception is close to inexistent in your average suburban Chicago high school.


Recommendations for Teachers
Warning: Will Grayson, Will Grayson is intended for mature audiences only. It is recommended for high school students in their junior or senior year because it explores content that may be inappropriate for those in middle school or younger.

The book, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, is wildly entertaining and once your students pick it up they will not be able to stop reading it until they read the very last page. It lends itself well to the English classroom because it addresses many of the issues that your average teenager will be experiencing throughout high school. It thoroughly explores depression with Levithan’s Will Grayson and learning how to live with mental illness. This is particularly important because most YA novels talk about the treatment of depression, but not learning how to live with its side effects. The book also explores common teenage insecurities and finding one’s identity within a high school environment. For example, with Green’s Will Grayson these insecurities become obvious. His Will Grayson follows two simple rules throughout the book: 1. Don’t care too much. 2. Shut up. These rules help him avoid most problems. However, they also prevent him from getting close to anyone. We find that as the book progresses, however, that he breaks these rules and ends up dating his good friend Jane and strengthening his friendship with Tiny. Finally, the topic that Will Grayson, Will Grayson covers the most is the acceptance of the LGBTQ community.

As you can see, there are a plethora of topics that English teachers can discuss in their classrooms. They can talk about how to deal with depression and remind students that they are not the only ones suffering from this condition. Teachers can talk about the importance of friendship and being comfortable in ones own skin because it’s our differences that make us unique and the world exciting. Lastly, teachers can talk about the importance of accepting the LGBTQ community because intolerance or homophobia can hurt people and affect their ability to learn and perform well in high school.

In addition to discussing these topics in the classroom, I may suggest that teachers have students write a paper about some of the issues or insecurities that they have overcome in high school. I may also suggest that teachers have their student’s write a paper about which Will Grayson they relate with the most and why. I think that with either of these writing prompts, students will have plenty to write about and will be able to tackle some topics that are relevant to our day in age.


About the Authors
external image featured_willgrayson.jpgJohn Green:
Born in 1977, John Green grew up in Orlando, Florida, and later attended boarding school just outside of Birmingham, Alabama. This school, Indian Springs School, was a huge inspiration for his first award winning book Looking for Alaska. Green has lived in Lansing, Chicago, New York, and currently calls Indianapolis his home, living there with his wife, his son, and his dog.

Aside from being a best selling author, John also runs a successful vlog with his brother, Hank, that can be explored on YouTube or www.nerdfighters.com
Some of his other works include:
Looking for Alaska
An Abundance of Katherines
Paper Towns
Let it Snow
The Fault in Our Stars

David Levithan:
Born in 1972, David Levithan is also an award-winning young adult author. Many of his novels feature a strong, gay main character. Levithan is the founding editor of PUSH, a magazine sponsored by Scholastic Press, that publishes edgy material and draws attention to new faces in the young adult scene. He enjoys both writing an editing, and is known for his collaboration with other others.

Some of his other works include:
Boy Meets Boy
The Realm of Possibility
Wide Awake
Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
Likely Story

Collaboration: Green and Levithan worked on this book together for over five years. They split the work in half, deciding that each would write every other chapter. The only other things that were decided beforehand was that their characters would share a name, and half a life altering encounter with one another at some point in the book. John Green wrote the odd-numbered chapters and chose the last name Grayson. David Levithan wrote the even-numbered chapters and chose the first name Will. They each wrote the first three chapters of their own character’s story before exchanging and beginning to intertwine their plots.



Multimedia

This video was made by author John Green 4 days before the book was released to the public. In it, he reads an excerpt from the beginning of the book. This video is cool because it gives some insight into the author and how his voice comes through the book. It's obvious from this video that Green is somewhat of an oddball and outspoken individual, but it is a great opportunity to hear about the author's opinions on his own writing and his partner, David Levithan. It is also important to note that Green recommends this novel for high schoolers only; younger audiences may not have the maturity to be able to understand some of the content within the novel.



The second video is an entry from a vlogger named David Levitz, who gives a great insight into being gay in middle/high school. Videos like these are great to have available to students because of the prominence of LGBT students in schools these days; it's great to have a personal perspective, because it gives the community a voice and a relatability that may not be found in more conservative schools. By this time, students should be more used to the idea of homosexuality within their communities, but if they are not, it may be a great way to confront the issue and become more accepting over time.




Additional Resources:
While Will Grayson, Will Grayson is a funny and lighthearted novel, it does tackle some issues that high school students may struggle with. Below are some links that may be helpful to start discussions within the classroom.
  • Start a GSA: Gay-Straight-Alliance Nework - This website is a great starting point for students interested in forming their own student-run club partnering LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning) students with allied straight students within their schools.
  • National Institute of Mental Health: Depression - This website is a resource from the National Institute of Mental Health which links to page after page of detailed information about mental illness, and specifically about depression.
  • GLSEN - Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network's official site. Here you can learn about how educators are helping students who identify as LGBTQ and what the organization is doing to help educate the public on what it means to identify as LGBTQ.
  • LGBTQ Center - Learn more about the LGBTQ community and what members are doing to ensure their voices are heard.
  • LGBTQ Rights - The LGBTQ Project - Find out which laws and proposals that have an impact on the LGBTQ community are being passed and/or being upheld in states around the country.
  • LGBTQ in the Classroom - Struggling with how to incorporate and encourage discussions about the LGBTQ community within your classroom? This site, created by GLSEN, gives ten tips on how to ensure classrooms are safe places for students who identify as LGBTQ.
  • John Green Official - Author John Green's official website. Here you'll find updates on his latest work and check up on tour dates.
  • David Levithan Official - Author David Levithan's official website. Talk about your favorite DL books, as well as find out where you can meet him!
  • David Levithan's Goodreads Account - Have discussions with the author about his favorite books and what he's working on at the moment.
  • Vlogbrothers - John Green and his brother, Hank, come together in a hilarious line of videos that range in topics from bullying to the worst places to vomit. Together, the Green brothers have created a group called the Nerdfighters, their motto being Don't Forget to Be Awesome (DFTBA), because being a nerd is, well...awesome!
  • DFTBA Records- Don't Forget to Be Awesome's official webpage, where you can catch up with the Green brothers and see where they're touring around the country. Musical artists, authors, and nerds alike can get together and discuss their favorite things. You can even buy t-shirts!

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