Round about a year ago, I kept seeing this one book popping up: an arguably larger book with a blue cover, and two clouds sprawled across the front. Generally, as a pseudo-hipster trained by the neckbeards of Reddit, I’ve become conditioned to hate anything that’s popular. And I did for a long time. I’d like to say I’m now beyond it, but really, the only reason I ever considered reading said book was due to the sparkling recommendation of a friend I’m inclined to think has a head on her shoulders. Apparently there was this fellow named John Green who made videos on the internet, and occasionally wrote very good YA novels that tore the hearts of thousands across the continent. I don’t remember crying in the last little while, so I readily took on the challenge of anything that figured it could make my tear ducts spew oceans.
It made good sense, at least, to take a leave of absence from my squabbles in the world of grandiose science fiction and generally boring classics. Reading had almost become a full-time job of trying to fill my bookshelf – partly because I wanted it to look pretty, but mostly because I wanted to look super intellectual. In hindsight, this wasn’t really working, considering I’m the only one who spends any time in my room, but I still wanted to finish. Better I succeed in stupid ventures than succeed in nothing at all. As it would so happen, there were four empty spaces above my dresser, and I wanted them filled.
And so, I embarked on a daunting crusade to read every solo novel ever published under the name John Green. Admittedly, it wasn’t all that daunting.
This one’s for you, Emma. Also Safa a little bit.
4. An Abundance of Katherines
The last place on this list goes rather deservedly to An Abundance of Katherines, and thankfully not first on the list of books I set out to read. I mean, it wasn’t necessarily a bad book – it was charming and creative at its moments. It just couldn’t deliver the same emotional impact that the others could. It relied less on symbolism and a central theme. It’s clear that great pains were taken in trying to make the protagonist as likeable as possible through his inner monologue, but along the way I found myself beginning to dislike him much the same as those around him. That’s the trouble with writing a pretentious, whiny character. Though this wasn’t really unique to Colin, either. Everything about the novel seemed one-dimensional and bland, at least compared to his other books. The main characters, Hassan and Lindsey, didn’t prove particularly interesting, either. The former used almost exclusively as a forced-humour machine, and the latter as an unjustified love interest. Everything about the book spoke of John Green, but rather hollowly. It just didn’t have heart.
Also, I’m not very fond of math, so the graphs and tangents weren’t really doing anything for me.
3. The Fault in our Stars
Call me out for going against the crowd, but The Fault In Our Stars really isn’t the tearjerker everyone says it is. I mean, going through its page on Goodreads, you’d expect it to be the most magnificent piece of fiction ever written. But it really isn’t. I think the one thing I’m not very fond of in John’s writing is that it’s consistently implausible and the characters just too perfect. That’s not to say they’re infallible, but they’re extremely literary; their interactions rely on cliches and silly vernaculars, before jumping to symbolism-heavy rants to communicate the themes of the novel. The message is forced into the dialogue, and not in the characters actions. Similarly forced was the relationship between Hazel and Augustus, as if their bond was growing off the page. Their relationship in itself was consistently beautiful and touching, but the pacing really wasn’t there.
Suffice to say, I didn’t love it, but I loved parts of it. In fact, the parts that were great sometimes trump all the other nonsense. Firstly: death. Coping with it’s eventuality, and living with its reality. I don’t exactly speak from experience, but Green seems to understand the lives of cancer patients, and knows how their disease doesn’t define them – doesn’t diminish who they are as people. Secondly, I was surprised with how interested I was with the story, remaining fluid and genuinely funny throughout. And even though I was picking apart nearly every page, each one willed me to the next, and I really couldn’t stop until I devoured it. Still didn’t cry though, which was disappointing.
2. Paper Towns
Much like Looking for Alaska, which is next on the list, I found Paper Towns spoke to me on a personal level. I have the benefit of being a guy when it comes to reading John’s novels, as most of them are written from the perspective of a boy, so I found it easier to relate to Q’s experiences. It’s nice to think that your own thoughts are unique and special and profound, but the reality is that everyone’s felt the same thoughts as you have, and gone through the same struggles. In this, he was able to communicate and affirm experiences I couldn’t even begin to articulate. He does his job as one should; taking me on a journey where everyone has a voice, and everything has purpose. The writing provided both intensity, laughter, and meaning. It was engrossing at its best parts, and addictive at its worst. Beyond that, the ending of the novel was somewhat anti-climactic, but looking back, I don’t think it could’ve panned out any other way. It didn’t happen to serve the plot, it happened to serve the characters – remaining true to what they would’ve done and how regular people might react. While it’s not without its fair share of literary nonsense, the book takes you on a trip dedicated less to the destination and more to the people themselves. They, more authentic and three-dimensional than in any of his other novels.
My biggest gripe with the book (and John Green books in general) was how it so often integrates symbolism and other literature into the central plot. While I’m not doubting the beauty of Leaves of Grass, I think it served to distract from the novel more than help it – to pull in one another’s work, as if it somehow lends the book more depth, and excuses the author from having to truly justify and integrate their metaphor into the story. That goes for the Strings and the Vessel, too. I understand why they’re there, and why they’re so important to the characters development, but personally, something about them didn’t sit right with me.
1. Looking for Alaska
Among all John’s novels, it’s fair to say I liked Looking for Alaska the best. That’s not to say he’s gotten worse over the years, but nearly every aspect of the book struck a chord for me, even more so than Paper Towns. Where his other books fell short, it succeeded both symbolically and thematically. Despite a glaring similarity to Paper Towns in the latter aspect, it’s one John delivers relatively well; the love of an absent person, the search for both meaning and excitement. It might just be one that appeals to me on a personal level, but it’s done great regardless, delivering a striking emotional intensity unmatched by any of his other novels. More than anything, it truly conveys what it means to be a teenager – the vulnerability, the search for purpose, and the longing for adventure – the “Great Perhaps”. A true coming-of-age novel, it speaks to every generation, being endlessly entertaining and terribly profound.
My only critique would be in some of the female characters (Lara especially), which seemed to conform to every teen boy fantasy – terribly flirty and here to make you feel alive.
Still, with excellent pacing and a fair sense of humour, it delivered as a leisure book on every front.
Part of why I turned to Green was because I wanted something simple. Something that would permit me to click off my head and Just Read. I expected the Young Adult genre to deliver on that promise, but what I got was something so immediately charming and engaging that I couldn’t let go. Perhaps that’s what I was looking for.
And so, there you have it. I read all of them, surprisingly. You’re welcome, teenage girls everywhere. I’m pretty much your god now.
Feel free to sound off about my silly opinions in the comments below.