Will: A Review

Will by Maria BoydIn retrospect, mooning the Lakeside Girls’ bus was probably not the smartest thing to do.

But, at the time, seventeen-year-old Will Armstrong thought it was a brilliant idea. So did all of his mates.

Unfortunately the principal was not as impressed.

To make up for (once again) sullying the reputation of St. Andrew’s College, Will is sentenced to two months hard labor as a man of all work . . .

For the high school musical.

Will can play guitar fine, so it isn’t the music that’s the problem. It’s more the giving up all of his free time, hanging out with a bunch of geeks and generally being a laughing stock for being involved in a dumb musical production.

As if that isn’t bad enough, the trombone player from Year 7 seems to be permanently attached to his hip declaring Will his best friend, the male lead is annoyingly perfect, and the leading lady makes Will go soft in the head. It’s hard enough navigating high school as it is, Will has no idea how he’s supposed to negotiate all this extra musical nonsense in Will (2010*) by Maria Boyd.

First things first: Will joins the ranks of Australian books brought to the US by wise publishers. Unfortunately in this case, that means a lot of this book felt like reading a foreign language. A lot of the school culture is a wash in understanding. The grades for students seem to be different. The kids seem to play soccer and football–which I thought were the same things everywhere but in the US? And the  slang is often unknowable.** In other words, a lot of the nuances of this story were very likely lost on me.

Adding to the jarring nature was the book’s style (at least in the advanced reader’s copy I read): Instead of conventional dialog with quotation marks, the story features dialogue in bold. This approach gives a fast and loose feel to conversations, but it also makes it a bit hard to follow who is speaking. It was also, for me, just a bit . . . off putting.

Confusion aside, Will is an interesting slice-of-life book about the culture of an Australian boys school (I’d imagine) and also about putting together a musical (I’d imagine). But Boyd’s book is also a bit more than that as she explores Will’s relationship with his mother and his complicated feelings about his father. Will is a funny and compelling story about Will going, almost literally, from zero to hero in his own eyes and in the eyes of the St. Andrew’s community as he works on the musical.

While Will had its high points (and low, poignant, points), the writing was often repetitive with a lot of talk about Will’s gut churning in lieu of describing actual feelings. While the middle of the book was great, the start and finish dragged a bit with an ending that bordered on the trite. Boyd is at her best while writing the humorous parts of the story. The young trombonist who attaches himself to Will, for instance, is particularly funny and developed to a point not seen in many of the other secondary characters.

All told, Will is a genuine and amusing male narrator in a heartfelt and sometimes even hilarious story.

*This book was originally published in Australia in 2006. 2010 was the publication date of the first US edition.

**Racial slurs and curse words may have been thrown around at one point but not being Australian it’s impossible to say (1) if that was the case or (2) if any of the words were as “bad” as their equivalents in this country.

Possible Pairings: Skinny by Donna Crooner, Fat Kid Rules the World by K. L. Going, Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta, The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, Drama by Raina Telgemeier

Exclusive Bonus Content: Although I got the feel that this was a great “guy book” with an authentic male narrator and realistic depiction of male friendships, I’m not sure how many boys would want to read a book about a guy helping with the school musical. Similarly, although I love the magenta cover with the guitar partially shown (Will’s guitar is an important part of the story), it is still magenta. Not sure if there are any boys who would see this and think, “Ah, this is a book written for me.”