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Battle of the Books

Round 1, Match 8: Trash vs. Will Grayson, Will Grayson

by Andy Mulligan
David Fickling/Random House
Will Grayson, Will Grayson
by John Green and David Levithan

Judged by
Mitali Perkins

I was assigned novels featuring two unforgettable trios of guys: Raphael, Gardo, and Rat in Trash, and Tiny, Will, and Will in Will Grayson, Will Grayson. I loved all six of these boys. Focusing first on character, I felt like Meryl Streep as Sophie forced to choose between two sets of favorite sons—a virtually impossible task. So far, it was a tie.

I moved to setting. As usual, expert young adult writers David Levithan and John Green portrayed the angst and agony of life in America’s suburban high schools perfectly in Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Trash’s setting was fictional, but Andy Mulligan’s vivid descriptions brought to mind the squalor in several cities I’ve visited. Once again, when it came to setting, I had a tie.

Next I considered language. Clever turns of phrase, funny and moving dialog, rich vocabulary, and scrupulous avoidance of cliché gave Will Grayson, Will Grayson an edge over the more sparely told Trash. I wondered if this was partly due to the older target audience Levithan and Green had in mind, but nonetheless, the language point went to Will Grayson, Will Grayson.

What about plot? Both books were page turners. I tore through Trash, rooting for the boys in their impossible quest to escape the force of corrupt authority and start a new life without fear and suffering. In Will Grayson, Will Grayson, the narrative arc was compelling, but the interesting language and strong characterization (I didn’t want to stop spending time with Tiny, Jane, Gideon, and the Wills) kept me reading. The plot point had to go to Trash. I could easily picture reading this suspenseful Dickensian novel aloud to spellbound young people, reluctant readers as well as savvy bibliophiles.

For me, the final choice came down to theme. Will Grayson, Will Grayson adeptly explored the power of love (two of my favorite scenes were the redemptive gift of a glass bowl and a declaration of love in a baseball dugout), but Trash was about the love of power and the power of love. After the “weakest” characters in a story use street smarts and loyalty to outwit brutal police officers and cruel politicians, you close the book with an unmatched feeling of satisfaction. For a heartfelt, page-turning exploration of power, justice, friendship, and freedom, round one, match eight goes to … Trash by Andy Mulligan.

— Mitali Perkins

And the Winner of this match is…


Tiny Cooper is arguably the most memorable literary creation of the year, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson is one of the best books that John Green or David Levithan have written.  I’m a little bit surprised it only got a Stonewall Honor and an Odyssey Honor at the ALA Youth Media Awards.  Like Mitali, I didn’t want to stop spending time with these characters, but I also felt likewise about the Trash boys and their chilling story of power, greed, and corruption.  The book reminded me of Mal Peet’s soccer novels (Keeper, The Penalty, and Exposure) but younger and more accessible.  Since Trash was relatively unheralded, I’m very happy to see it advance to meet A Tale Dark and Grimm. How many of us had They Called Themselves the KKK meeting Will Grayson, Will Grayson in the next round?  I know I did, and I bet I’m not the only one.

— Commentator Jonathan Hunt

Roxanne Feldman About Roxanne Feldman

Roxanne Hsu Feldman is the Middle School (4th to 8th grade) Librarian at the Dalton School in New York City. She served on the 2002 and 2013 Newbery Committees. Roxanne was also a member of 2008-2009 Notable Books for Children, 2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults, and the 2017 Odyssey Award Committees. In 2016 Roxanne was one of the three judges for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. You can reach her at at


  1. Another loss! 2-6. I was with you Jonathan (which does not always happen).

  2. Well, THAT was certainly not what I expected!

  3. So now to the next round with a brand new crystal ball:

    It is not in the cards for Sachar: Countdown

    Keeper wins when doll’s hair is ruled ineligible for literary DNA analysis.

    In a classic battle of competing mythologies, Ring of Solomon wins by a footnote.

    It’s Grim but Grim is better than Trash.

    Countdown ousts Keeper. Grim defeats the ring.

    But One Crazy Summer comes back from the dead to win it all.

  4. Ed–I love your predictions, and I agree…almost. I liked Trash more than Grim. Grim’s narrator was a little too intrusive for me. I thought Trash was very compelling. The later rounds? The Ring beats Trash, and then Conspiracy comes back to win it all.

  5. One exciting round down, 3 more to go!
    Lots of surprises so far but one person did manage to correctly guess 7 of the 8 decisions so far!

  6. Oh, this one took me completely by surprise. Team nonfiction is not doing well this year – but I’d have to say I think you may have a crystal ball, Ed.

  7. I’m betting on vast numbers of–do they have a name for themselves?–Megan Whalen Turner fans to bring Conspiracy of Kings back. I’m sure they’re… organizing. I’ve heard they’re kind of like Betsy-Tacy fans: will stop at nothing to get what they want.

  8. What about all those nerdfighters out there in cyberspace? I’m sure all those kids out number the MWT fans. If they were mobilized i dont think the poll results will end up being close at all. While it pains me to even think it. I do see WG, WG returning from the dead.

  9. Oh, I should be devastated as, in a post Tiny Dancer musical euphoria; I picked WILL GRAYSON WILL GRAYSON to take it all. But how can I be? I just finished TRASH this morning moments before coming here to read the results. I know the brackets were arranged alphabetically to create some randomness, but it is fitting that these two books, both with such spectacular endings should end the first round.

    I adored WGWG for all the reasons Mitali Perkins stated. Tiny manages to upstage every other fictional diva in children’s literature, with the possible exception of Grandma Dowdel. I enjoyed one of the Wills immensely. I found the other disturbingly authentic; having lived with a teenage son who suffered from depression Will #2 was at times too close for comfort, but ultimately much-loved. “Tiny Cooper, my name is not Will Grayson; but still, I appreciate you.”

    Of the many things I have to thank the Battle of the Books, foremost is how you manage to dig up books that I would have overlooked. Most of my reading focus is on books that stand a chance for the Newbery and so I often miss international titles. Through BoB I’ve discovered amazing books like HERE LIES ARTHUR and NATION, and now TRASH.

    There was no way I was going to read this book. How could I? The very thought that there are children living in the same world as I, who spend their entire existence in landfills is too much to bear, let alone read about in an entire book. What I found in TRASH was so beautiful, like Olivia in the story, I lost my heart. Not only are the three boys compelling, a reader would be charged with abandonment if she were to walk away from them before their story was finished, but the plot is a rip-roaring adventure of epic proportions. Mulligan’s setting is so vivid he didn’t even need to describe the cathartic scene that would have ended the movie adaptation. It plays easily on the screen in my head. Live long and blissfully by the sea Raphael, Gurdo, and Jun. Thank you for your story.

  10. Another upset for me. Of course, based on Mitali’s and DaNae’s reviews I will now remedy!

  11. What if the Undead winner is still in the running? Does the second place get re-inserted in the contest?

    If COUNTDOWN is not still in the running, I’m still predicting it the Undead winner. Although like Wendy, I see CONSPIRACY OF KINGS fans coming out in troves and giving it a run for its money!

  12. Does anyone know if John Green mentioned the Undead Poll to the Nerdfighters? If he did, WGWG may well win.

    I personally mentioned the Undead Poll to the livejournal community at Sounis. So I am completely confident that CONSPIRACY OF KINGS will win the Undead Poll — if the Nerdfighters didn’t rally for WGWG.

    Mr. H, the dead book with the most votes will come back from the dead, ignoring books that are still alive.

  13. Nooooooooo! Will Grayson, Will Grayson was my hope to win it all!!! How can you not fall in LOVE with Tiny Cooper??? Praying that WGWG comes back from the dead…

  14. Ahh….. Yes I for one am glad that Trash one. It was a fun novel and while Will Grayson x2 was very insightful I still preferred Trash. Although Will Grayson Will Grayson is a book that people can relate to (Not exactly, of course. But pretty close), from recently reading heavier books I found Trash a bit refreshing. So I for one am satisfied. The real issue at hand is Countdown being outread. I demand a recount!


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