For this entire school year, my students — mostly the 8th graders, but now the 7th graders, too — have been raving about John Green. They loved The Fault in Our Stars. “It’s sooooo good,” they would tell me, “and sooooo sad!” They gave me a little bit of a teaser: the novel is about a teenage girl with cancer, and she has a friend (a boy) who also has cancer. Since they told me the book is sooooo good, I assumed the boy and girl have a romance. Since they said it is sooooo sad, I figured that probably someone in the book dies. And those two potential plot points didn’t pull me in. It sounded like a sappy novel that stereotypical teens like because they are obsessed with love and death.
For quite a while, I didn’t exactly avoid reading the book, but I definitely didn’t make it a priority. But when more and more students kept talking about the amazing John Green, I thought I’d give him a try.
I started to read Will Grayson, Will Grayson. I hated it. Couldn’t even get half way through it. Honestly, I’ve even blocked out the reason why I hated it, but I think it was because it was crude. (Yes, many of my students have read and loved that one, too.) I’m told (by an adult whose judgment I trust) that it has a valuable lesson at the end, but that you have to go through way too much sludge to get there for it to be worth it.
Still, since my students were so enthralled, I thought I’d give Green another chance. Since The Fault in Our Stars is perpetually checked out of every library I visit, I chose An Abundance of Katherines instead.
And you know what? John Green is a really good writer.
If you were to ask me what it is that makes him good and why my teenaged students love him so much, I would answer you this way:
He, like, totally gets how teenagers think and talk, you know? I mean, he doesn’t do it in a way that’s completely distracting like you might think he would; instead, it feels natural. I can totally hear my students talking this way.
Also, even in the midst of “like” and “totally” and “awesome” and the sarcasm that seems to inevitably accompany puberty, he’s not afraid to use advanced vocabulary. Really advanced, too. He uses words that even I don’t always know. And he loves to make incredibly obscure references to history or literature or music or art or mathematics. Not only that, but he truly does address some important life lessons and issues.
So, having read and enjoyed An Abundance of Katherines, I figured I needed to read the much beloved tale of The Fault in Our Stars.
I was partly right. It is rather sappy, and teens obsessed with love and death will probably enjoy it immensely. But it is still intelligently written. And as a bonus, it takes place in Indianapolis. (It’s always a little fun to read a book set in a place you know. I enjoyed being able to picture the references to Castleton Mall and Broad Ripple and Meridian Hills. John Green lives in Indianapolis, by the way.)
I preferred An Abundance of Katherines, though. It felt both more and less realistic. The premise on which the book centered was less probable, but the characters themselves seemed more real. These characters deal with struggles that most kids will encounter — understanding relationships (both romantic and otherwise), leaving your comfort zone, being forced into situations you would not have chosen, trying to figure out the meaning in your life.
So, I like John Green. I would even go so far as to recommend him to those who enjoy young adult literature. Go to the library to check out one of his books.
That is, if they aren’t all checked out.