YA novels have been written in the form of letters, diary entries, text messages . . . and now, in a long-anticipated follow-up to John Green and David Levithan’s collaboration Will Grayson, Will Grayson, the script of a musical theater production. In Green and Levithan’s original book, the 16-year-old openly gay, bodily large and ironically named “Tiny” Cooper writes and directs a musical, which fans now have the chance to read in its entirety.
Scenes vary from the outright hilarious (the requisite pun-filled locker room scene) to the amusingly ironic (a literal parade of ex-boyfriends) to the contemplative (Tiny’s father’s struggle with—and ultimate decision to—join him for a Mother-Daughter fashion show). The text, composed predominately of rhymed verse, includes lots of allusions to other musicals, insightful advice about love (a breakup means “you must rearrange your heart / It might feel like the end of the world / but it’s the beginning of your art”) and exactly the sort of easy acceptance that characterizes David Levithan’s work (“You’re gay? / Next you’re gonna tell me the sky is blue / that you use girl shampoo / that critics don't appreciate Blink-182”).
Levithan has accomplished something truly special in this confection of a book. Although its format is its most obviously unique feature, what ultimately stands out is its mixture of over-the-top silliness and deep emotional honesty. Unlike in Levithan’s groundbreaking Boy Meets Boy, there’s no apologetic half-fantasy component here: Hold Me Closer demonstrates loudly and gloriously that contemporary gay-centered YA lit no longer needs such literary crutches to succeed.
Jill Ratzan teaches research rudiments in central New Jersey. She learned most of what she knows about YA lit from her terrific grad students.