I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I did not, like the rest of the world, particularly love Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist and I judge John Green unfairly. Simply put, his books are so awesome that I expect them all to be. And that's kind of a high standard.
Let's get the good stuff about the book out of the way first:
1. I liked the format. Alternating chapters is cool with me and it works in this book. It in no way feels disjointed. The story flows nicely.
2. There are funny parts and I'm all for funny parts.
3. One of the things I like about Green is how he writes dialogue and how he handles male friendships. Once again, he did not disappoint in these areas. Levithan's dialogue was just as good.
4. I always admire how Green handles parents in his book. He gives them their due, but keeps them largely in the background. So many authors create stupid parents or evil parents or neglectful parents or parents who are on vacation so they (the authors) don't have to deal with them. Green writes parents who actually love their kids. It's refreshing in YA.
And now the things I didn't like so much. I've tried to put these in order from that which annoyed me the most to the least.
1. The characters--Tiny Cooper and Straight Will's dad are I think the only two characters I liked.
2. The story--In short, there ain't much of one. There's a nice little surprise about a third of the way through that concerns Gay Will, but that's about it on the plotting front. The term "character study" was created for books like this, and since I'm in the rejection process right now and getting a fair amount of "I liked this and this, but there just isn't enough story," I'm kind of sensitive to books that have this and this but not much story.
3. The gayness--Yeah, yeah, I know it's about the universality of love and whatnot, but I think we all like to read about characters we relate to and I just didn't.
4. The ending--Sorry, not buying it.
5. I have a prejudice against original song lyrics in books, especially when said lyrics are intended to be funny. First, it's impossible to read the song the way the author hears it in his head, so it's like reading poetry with terrible meter. Second, it's obvious the author thinks he's being clever and that's annoying. Third, how the characters react to the song lyrics says something about how the author views his own song writing ability. So if the author thinks it's all kinds of funny and has the character say something like, "I almost fell on the floor laughing" then the reader knows that the author thinks he wrote some funny shit and funny shit should be funny shit on its own. When a character laughs, I usually don't.
6. Too much theme--This is an issue in all of Green's work. (I haven't read enough Levithan to make the same criticism.) Green gets a little too didactic, especially near the ends of this books. He kind of hits you over the head with the message.
And can I say that I feel for the writer who's trying to write a book that gay kids will pick up? (And I think that describes this book, although I'm sure the authors would not admit to it.) On the one hand, we want being gay to be, like it says in the book, just another characteristic of the person, like having blue eyes. The character is this and this and this and, yes, he happens to be gay. This sort of treatment seems to get the most positive reviews, especially among those who are gay. But there's also a rule in writing that your characters are who they are for a reason. I once read a review that called a main character "ethnic for no reason." It was meant as a criticism. Implied is that if you make your characters Latino or black or gay, then that Latinoness or blackness or gayness must somehow matter to the story.
And so there's a conflict. By making gayness just another personal trait, the author is saying it doesn't matter. Like the color of the character's eyes. But clearly, it has to matter, or the reader will wonder why in the hell the author made the character gay. And I don't think this conflict only exists in the world of fiction. We claim to want equality, but is equality really enough? Don't we celebrate our differences? Don't we think our differences make us who we are? Don't they matter? And if they do, don't our differences drive each of our personal stories? Do we not form our self-identities based mainly on that which makes us stand out from the pack?
Equating gayness with blue-eyedness sound nice and is certainly the politically correct thing to believe these days, but is it the truth? Do gay people really want books where a character's gayness doesn't matter?
I don't know. Maybe they do. But I sort of doubt it.