It’s not often that my daughters get really excited about a book. The last one was The Hunger Games, but that was back in 2008 and that’s, like, five years too long to go without getting excited about a book.
So when they both expressed interest in getting a John Green novel, I didn’t stop at just one. I bought all four.
For the uninitiated, Green is the latest hot young adult fiction author. I don’t mean he’s hot and young, although if you’re into quick-witted guys with bed head then, yes, he does qualify. And he’s 35 years old, which is now young to me. Green has achieved YA cult status by writing thought-provoking, frank stories with characters that are smart, genuine and darkly humorous.
Think A Series of Unfortunate Events for teenagers.
His latest book, The Fault in Our Stars (the one I stole from one daughter’s bedside stack and read last weekend), is the story of two young cancer survivors, a sort of Love in the Time of Cancer for our times, when it seems that almost every young person has been touched by the disease, either directly or through a relative, friend or classmate.
Hazel Grace, the narrator, is an oxygen tank-toting 16-year-old with terminal thyroid cancer that has metastasized to her lungs, but a miracle drug is buying her some time. She’s obsessed with the inconclusive ending of her favorite novel. Her love interest, Augustus, is a handsome, former basketball star in remission after losing his leg to bone cancer. He likes to carry an unlit cigarette in his mouth as “a metaphor.”
“You put the killing thing right between your teeth but you don't give it the power to do its killing," he tells Hazel.
TFiOS – the title is inspired by a line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar – has a lot of striking sentences. “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: Slowly, and then all at once.” It also tackles some big-think issues, like the beauty and value of even temporary things.
Green, who grew up in Orlando, attended boarding school in Alabama, the inspiration for his 2005 debut novel, Looking for Alaska. He’s got street cred. His first book was banned in some schools in Tennessee and New York for a two-page oral sex scene (which Green convincingly defends in a YouTube post called “I Am Not a Pornographer”).
I’d like to point out here that this book is on the suggested summer reading list for my oldest daughter’s 9th grade Honors English class, but if you’re into book banning and object to teens thinking through difficult themes and situations, then please skip this paragraph.
On the side, Green happens to be a social media maniac who operates on Twitter, Tumblr and his own YouTube channels, including one called “CrashCourse!” where he and his musician brother, Hank, teach rapid-fire, 10-minute video lectures on biology, English lit, chemistry and other subjects, most notably world history. They’ve built a 770,000-subscriber following, with 40 million video views, thanks in large part to high school students using them to help study for the AP World History exam administered by the College Board.
He's so uncool, he's cool.
The brothers’ popularity stems from the fact that the Greens – aka “VlogBrothers” and leaders of the “Nerdfighters” – manage to make subjects like the Agricultural Revolution and the Roman Empire entertaining, aided by thought bubbles, cheeseburger jokes, comical animated images and that wildly appealing quality treasured by teenagers everywhere: sarcasm.
Did I mention that Fault is being made into a movie starring Shailene Woodley, the young actress who played George Clooney’s troubled daughter in The Descendants?
If you’re the parent of a teenager, prepare yourself for some John Green fanaticism. And thank your lucky stars.