Posted March 25, 2013 by in Interesting Books

John Green: A Primer

John Green. Just the name sends fans of young adult literature into reading frenzies. He made geek chic and has authored some of the best YA novels of the past ten years. Not familiar with his work? This primer will introduce you to the man, the myth, and the legend…and some truly awesome, noteworthy books.

John Green A Primer

The Fault in Our Stars

Though John Green’s novels have delighted readers since 2007, The Fault in Our Stars is his most recent novel and, arguably, the most popular. The story is a tear-jerking book about teens with cancer, but Green’s signature smart, sarcastic, sassy characters carry the story beyond cliches. Goodreads members voted it Best Young Adult Fiction in 2012, and the American Library Association (ALA) recognized the audio book with an Odyssey Award in 2013. The book was so popular that it’s due to hit the big screen in 2014. In fact, Shailene Woodley was recently offered the lead role in the film (she’ll also be playing Tris in the Divergent movie, so it’s going to be a good year for her!).

There’s a little bit of cancer support groups, a little bit of philosophy, a dash of Amsterdam, and romance. But if that’s not your thing…

Other John Green Novels

Green’s signature writing style, stories, and characters can be enjoyed in any of his standalone novels. All of Green’s male protagonists are mix of smart, witty, awkward, geeky, and charming. They also all have complicated feelings for the mysterious, trouble, beautiful leading ladies in their lives. His first novel, Looking for Alaska, won the 2006 ALA Printz Award for excellence in literature for young adults. Set in a public boarding school, Looking for Alaska is the story of Miles “Pudge” Halter and his search for “the great perhaps.” He’s obsessed with famous last lines…and his mysterious new friend, Alaska. Both deep and dark, it’s my personal favorite of Green’s novels.

Paper Towns, on the other hand, is a significantly lighter tale. Quentin Jacobsen has had a crush on his neighbor, Margo Roth Speigelema, for as long as he can remember. One night she crawls in his window, and the two embark on a wild, crazy night across Orlando, playing devious pranks and completing bizarre tasks. The next morning, Margo disappears, leaving a trail for Quentin to follow. Scavenger hunting and road tripping ensue. An Abundance of Katherines is also a road trip novel with a math-geek twist. The protagonist, Colin, has been dumped by nineteen different girls named Katherine. I don’t think I can describe this novel any better than the official book blurb: “Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl.”

Short Stories and Collaborations

Green does not write alone, as he hangs with some of the coolest writers in the YA world. Sometimes all of this hanging out results in awesome co-authored novels and story collections. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, co-authored with David Levithan, is about two boys in the Chicago area with the same name. Their paths cross, and both become hilariously entwined as each searches for love in the midst of a fabulously crazy high school musical production. Let It Snow, coauthored with Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle, also features the intersection of lives around a central event. A train is forced to stop due to bad weather in the North Carolina mountains on Christmas, and each author’s short romance grows out of the situation.

Finally, I highly recommend Geektastic, a short story collection by a variety of YA authors on the central theme of being a geek in high school. Green’s story, Freak The Geek, tells how a victim of a high school tradition turns to her friends for support. All of the stories in this collection, from authors like MT Anderson, Libba Bray, and Cassandra Clare, represent the intelligent, clever, geeky, charming side of young adult literature.

Vlog Brothers and Nerdfighteria

Though many fans discover John Green through his literary awesomeness, a significant number of fans discovered his novels through his YouTube community. John and his brother, Hank, made a pledge in 2007 to communicate via video blogs every weekday for a full year. They called it “Brotherhood 2.0,” and the project grew a huge following. In fact, the brothers continue to make videos* at least once a week. These cover topics such as John’s upcoming novels, books, pop culture, movies, social justice, relationships, and anything else that occurs to them.

John and Hank Green, showing the official Nerdfighter greeting.

John and Hank Green, showing the official Nerdfighter greeting.

The YouTube community built around the Vlog brothers has a culture and lingo similar to that of John Green’s novels. They have dubbed themselves “Nerdfighters” because they are nerds fighting to increase awesome and decrease suck in its various forms. Phrases like “DFTBA” (don’t forget to be awesome!) and ending book titles with “in my pants” permeate conversations. Most recently, Hank Green’s project, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, brought a serialized version of Pride and Prejudice to the YouTube screen*. It’s very 21st century, while staying true to the book.

*Warning: These videos (both The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and the Vlog Brothers) are HIGHLY addictive. I cannot be held responsible for the loss of your afternoon. Please view responsibly — give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the awesome!

What Are You Waiting For?

Whether you enjoy books that make you cry, think, laugh, or swoon, there’s something in a John Green novel for everyone.  Indeed, there is something in the Nerdfighter community for everyone. Read a book, peruse a short story, or watch some hilarious videos on YouTube. If you’ve already discovered Green’s awesomeness, leave a comment letting us know your favorite novel. If you haven’t, but want to, leave a comment letting us know which one you’ll start with. DFTBA!

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Former middle school teacher and school librarian, current doctoral student in education. Reader of all things young adult. I'm particularly fond of dystopian societies, sassy female protagonists, and clever dialogue. I can often be found asleep with a book on my face. Check out all my articles.