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Why Young Adult Literature Needs John Green

If the publishing industry can depend on any readership at the moment, it’s the adolescent set. Unlike some adults who claim overloaded schedules hinder them from leisure reading, teenagers couldn’t be more thrilled about it. As one Slate columnist puts it, “When kids like one book, they want the next one.” They’re eager to find characters they relate to, and their social media-savvy ways keep them directly connected to writers and other fans. It’s an inspiring cycle of discovery—a testament to the fact that students will read if they don’t feel like they’re being forced to. Nonetheless, getting them to pick up a novel is only half the battle; content is the bigger concern.

Thankfully, young adult literature has John Green. The acclaimed 35-year-old author (and proud alumnus of Kenyon College) is responsible for such bestselling titles as Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns. His newest book, The Fault in Our Stars, is perhaps his most accomplished yet. Here’s why kids all over the globe are raving about it, and more importantly, why the genre needs to take note.

Hazel Grace Lancaster is an ambitious sixteen-year-old who suffers from Thyroid cancer. She meets Gus, a high school basketball star turned amputee, while at a support meeting. Gradually, a deeply intimate relationship forms between the two. Green invites his readers to ponder the complexities of illness and young love, death and memory. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Part of what makes this story so compelling is the delicate balance of light and dark. It has its share of existential dilemmas and heartache, but the tone remains warm—bubbles with curiosity and joy. Green doesn’t sugarcoat anything. It’s life, with misfortunes and small triumphs abounding.

Critics have been quick to associate the word “literary” with The Fault in Our Stars. That might seem strange at first glance, but it’s a subtle reminder that not all books are created equal. Green’s narratives are filled with rich metaphors, thought-provoking themes, and nods to classic literature. You don’t just get to read Hazel and Gus’ fairy tale romance. It’s impossible not to inherit their burdens. You will think of the first person you ever kissed. You will question God. You will finish the book with a newfound gratitude for the people in your life. It’s thoroughly heavy business. Green is always around to talk about it, though.

His immensely popular YouTube videos feature plenty of scholarly—and sometimes just plain ridiculous—witticisms. Here he answers fan questions, discusses the writing process, and indulges his inner nerd. Check out his “Shapie Face Question Tuesday” if you’re still an unbeliever. Green sets an ideal example for young adult authors who have yet to explore social media. Not only do his videos facilitate discussion, but they simply make reading fun. An inquisitive and uplifting community has been built around these books. The Fault in Our Stars encourages a dialogue about life and language; it’s a must-read. 

You can keep up with John on Twitter @realjohngreen, or his official Facebook page.