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Where Does John Green Live? He Needs a Home Visit…

December 5, 2012

And I mean that in the least creepy, stalker, prison-movie sort of way….

Stephen King in his On Writing says that to be a good writer, you must not only write a lot, but read a lot. See how it’s done. Every writer has a different style, and you’ll learn something provided you’re open to learn. It’s research.

Because I agree with Mr. King’s philosophy, I do a lot of this “research.” Every month, I read at least a dozen middle grade and young adult books. I carry them around in public places too, ignoring the looks I get from people on the bus and in the metro station. I have read everything from Anne Ursu to Andrea Cremer, from Rebecca Stead to Katherine Paterson. In so doing, my book collection and library fines have grown considerably.

In my research, I have discovered John Green. Holy cow, have you read John Green? I heard of him first because he appeared at the Books on the Mall event sponsored by Library of Congress. I purchased Looking for Alaska, hoping to have it signed, but Mr. Green’s book signing conflicted with another writer’s. I subsequently forgot to read Looking for Alaska, but then picked up The Fault in Our Stars when I saw it was ranked fourth on NPR-Book’s 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels List. (All of Mr. Green’s books appear on that list, four in the top twenty).

Before I commence with praising The Fault in our Stars, allow me to share with you the pitch on the book’s dust-jacket:

“Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.”

That’s right. The book is about cancer. And it is so amazing that almost a year after its release, it is still ranked #50 in Amazon book sales. It deserves it, because it is probably the best book I have ever read. It is a coming-of-age novel that deals with a serious topic and a serious situation with sensitivity and humor.

The Fault in Our Stars, to me, is a lesson. It is a lesson that you can take a book about cancer and make it so amazing that it will sell. It is a lesson that you can be a dude and write a book in a girl’s perspective. It is a lesson that if you are awesome, and you promise to sign the first 150,000 copies of your book sold, it will still be on the top 100 list a year later. (The Fault in Our Stars will, like Looking for Alaska, earn John Green the Michael L. Printz award unless the board at the American Library Association is smoking crack. And to think that John Green is still only in his 30s).

There’s another lesson. John Green has nothing fantastical or magical in his novels. He writes without gimmicks or tricks – just a story that resonates and a voice that speaks to us. This means that for those of us who write coming-of-age and problem novels, there is hope of publication. We just need to write like John Green does – honestly, and about something that means something to us.

If we do, the literary market will be well-served. Even if he is amazing, John Green can’t write it all.

NPR’s top 100 list may be accessed at: http://www.npr.org/2012/08/07/157795366/your-favorites-100-best-ever-teen-novels.

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2 Comments
  1. John Green is one of the best there is. Have you read WILL GRAYSON WILL GRAYSON, which he co-wrote with David Levithan? Really cool book written about two very different Will Grayson’s, and is a master class in voice.

    Love doing this kind of “research!”

    • Nope! But I just ordered it. I’m halfway through AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES and am already sad that eventually, I will finish my John Green books and have to wait for his latest to be released.

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