My introduction to John Green was The Fault in Our Stars which I read upon the insistence of my 12 year old niece about a month prior to the release of it’s film version. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved that book and Green’s writing so I decided to pursue his other works. I bought An Abundance of Katherines because I liked the humorous concept but it didn’t grab me immediately the way TFIOS did in it’s first few pages. A few months down the road Audible had a special deal on Looking for Alaska, Green’s debut novel. I purchased the audio version of the book to listen to. Turns out, John Green’s books translate well to spoken word. I’ve since listened to Paper Towns, An Abundance of Katherines and Will Grayson, Will Grayson via Audible as well. Young adult novels seem to be enjoyable in this format due to the “easy writing” style and dialogue heavy plot lines.
John Green has some what of a predictable style. All his books are plotted very similarly. Katherines, Paper Towns, and Looking for Alaska all have a teenage male protagonists who don’t fit in. Each finds a place socially and secures one or two male best friends who are kind of easy going/laid back to contrast the insecurities of the main character. All of these male leads encounter strong female characters who are fascinating, mysterious, and troubled in one way or another. Much of the plot centers in some way around the pursuit of knowing and understanding (or attempting to rescue) this girl and falling in love with her along the way. Each book has a different outcome to this pursuit—one character gets the girl and is happy, one character doesn’t get the girl but get’s close, and one character doesn’t get the girl and doesn’t get closure—but they all read very similarly. His debut, Looking for Alaska, is probably the strongest of these three. It tackles difficult issues and asks hard questions. The characters in Alaska are undeniably relatable and he gives an accurate picture into boarding school life. Paper Towns comes in second with an intriguing and mysterious plot, but less than satisfying ending. An Abundance of Katherines was a disappointment. I wanted to like it, but I just didn’t. Aside from a protagonist who got on my nerves, I felt like the plot never really went anywhere and the humor seemed forced. I did enjoy Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which was co-written with David Leviathan and I still love The Fault in Our Stars which I feel was strong because of his personal extreme with the subject matter and the strong female lead.
I once wrote this on Facebook about TFIOS: “It feels cliché to include this book what with all the hype and attention its gotten this year, but trust me…this is so much more than a YA romance. It’s existential, funny, full of doubt, questions, and hope. I wish it had been written just for me so I didn’t have to share or hear anyone talk about it tritely. It meant a great deal to me.“
Overall I like John Green. He’s a good voice to have in the YA genre because he seems to genuinely care about teenagers and wants his books to be relatable and helpful. It’s good to see realistic fiction bring written for and loved by teenagers, and even better when it still can be enjoyed and meaningful for adults as well. Green is not a perfect writer, but he strikes me as being a very genuine person and that is reflected in the things he chooses to publish. (Also he’s goofy, nerdy, and smart—and I like those traits as well).