Let’s talk about Will. For whatever reason, a surprising number of cute male characters in YA bear the name Will. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, Elizabeth Scott’s Perfect You, Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising sequence. And of course longtime BookEnders know I would never leave out Will from Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca and The Piper’s Son. Maybe it’s some deep-rooted nostalgic fondness for the Will I maintained a misguided, quite unrequited crush on throughout my high school years. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that so many of my favorite YA boys share a moniker. Or maybe authors and I love it because it’s more than a name or a love interest, it’s a tense. The promise of a future. Will.
If that’s the case, then it’s the perfect fit for Maria Boyd’s young adult novel, Will. Its titular protagonist, Will Armstrong, has made an art form of never quite capitalizing on his potential. But since his home life took a turn for a worse last December, he’s gone from St. Andrews’ well-respected slacker to the kid who can’t help pushing things too far. When he takes it upon himself to moon a busful of girls from Lakeside, the nearby girls’ school, his teachers decide to get creative with their punishment.
Although he’s spent years avoiding the stigma of associating with the school band, he is sentenced to play in it for a full two months while St. Andrews and Lakeside mount a joint production of 1953 musical, The Boy Friend. Though he longs for a return to normal life, eventually the company of Year Seven outcast, Zachariah, new kid and male lead in the musical, Mark, and leading actress, Elizabeth, have him starting toward a new normal. But how long can he keep it together now that a single misstep spells expulsion, and worse, no one will leave him alone?
I’d definitely recommend this to fans of Melina Marchetta’s Saving Francesca. It deals with many of the same topics – family, grief, deciding whether to blend in or stand out – in a way that is equally honest, funny, and best of all, unpatronizing. Not to mention both are set in Sydney area boys’ schools. Will also reminded me a lot of Andrew Smith’s Winger as well, probably due to the similarities between supporting characters Mark (Will) and Joey (Winger), as well as their protagonists’ tendency to take action before thinking about the consequences.
Will wasn’t technically perfect. The dialogue could be confusing sometimes, since there were never any speech tags and characters’ lines weren’t situated in a way that always made it clear. I thought a few of the secondary characters could have been consolidated, since there were quite a few of them and some served overlapping purposes. I was torn between a four and five star rating. But I went for the full five because it had that spark. The one that keeps you up until four in the morning, even though you promised yourself you’d “just read the first chapter or two.” The unquantifiable something that makes you cry in that painful way where your chest hurts because you can’t quite breathe, and the only thing left to do is keep reading.
Although Will was released in 2010, I honestly hadn’t even heard of it in passing before now. Perhaps like many other Aussie YA books, it simply hasn’t received as much publicity or marketing in the U.S. I stumbled across it when playing around with the subject headings for The Piper’s Son on the Seattle Public Library’s online catalog. Nonetheless, it was a wonderful debut from Boyd, and I sincerely hope to see more from her soon. In the meantime – Will Armstrong reinforces my love for the Wills of the world – well, those of the fictional variety, anyway. And you, my dear BookEnders, are left with one last question – Will you or won’t you?