Monday, October 21, 2013

Why I Don't Like John Green

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Okay, if you haven't heard about John Green, you probably don't read much contemporary YA fiction. Because John Green is huge these days. He has come out with a few wildly popular books over the past decade that have won all sorts of awards, most recent of which is the 2013 Teen Book of the Year: The Fault in our Stars (which, I believe, is being made into a movie).

He also happens to be a hugely controversial author because of the content in his books, and if you read the reviews people tend to either love him or hate him.

I read The Fault in our Stars some time last year, and I came away from it deeply conflicted. I mean, obviously the book had some staying power with me because here I am, still thinking about it over a year later, but I just couldn't bring myself to love it the way other people love this book. I decided to give Green another chance, so this past week I started listening to Looking for Alaska, which is his next most highly rated book. This book displayed more of Green's writing genius, but at the same time confirmed to me that I do not like John Green's books. I've been thinking and thinking and thinking about just why I don't like these two books. I've been reading reviews and lying in bed stewing over the question and trying to figure it out, but writing always helps me the most when I think these things out, so here I am to try and articulate just why I don't like John Green.

We'll start with the positive first. After all, I wouldn't be so conflicted if there weren't a lot of good things here.

Things I Like About John Green

-His characters. Green creates the most fantastic, funny, smart, and realistic teenage characters I have ever read. He is a genius at this. These characters pretty much breathe, they are so alive. I have to give Green credit for this.

-The substance. Yes, these are YA books, but Green is not afraid of attacking big life questions. Basically, he explores the meaning of existence through the eyes of these teenagers, and I have to admit it is refreshing to see a contemporary YA author get this deep. I wish there were more YA authors like this.

-The emotional punch without being sappy. I still have not figured out how Green can do this, but somehow he can write about teenage kids with cancer, or kids dying from drunk driving, and get me all incredibly weepy without crossing the line into sentimentality. It's just genius writing.

Things I Don't Like About John Green

-The mature content. Maybe I'm just a huge prude, but I would NEVER actually recommend a John Green book to a real teenager. The Fault in our Stars wasn't necessarily too shocking, but Looking for Alaska was simply awful in terms of language, drugs, and sex. Maybe it is realistic, maybe teens really talk and act this way, but please, no! My teenage years were far more innocent than this, and I hope they are far more innocent for my children. I think all of Green's issues and themes could be discussed without the language and sex.

-The agnosticism. I think, in the end, this is what actually tips the scale to disfavor for me. Maybe I could look past the mature content as just being "realistic," but what I struggle with the most is watching these smart, funny, brilliant characters face the hardest realities of this life without any sort of hope in God. It is downright depressing, and it makes me hurt all over to read. These poor kids face all of the pain and suffering this life has to offer, and they have nothing but their own grasping, flailing, limited understanding to help them through. I see what Green is trying to do, using world philosophies and the Humanities to try and scrape some semblance of meaning together in the face of all this suffering, but what Green offers is so woefully inadequate it hurts. It feels empty to me. Real or not, I just want to gather these children up and tell them there is a God who loves them, there is life after death, and real peace can be found in this life. But I suppose that is too much of a cop-out answer for Green.

And that is why I don't like John Green.

I admire him. I think he is a brilliant writer. And I appreciate what he is doing to push the genre of YA to a more substantial place. Of all the contemporary YA books I've read recently, Green's certainly have the most potential of being canonized as classics. I even appreciate his attempt to use the Humanities to help kids deal with real-life pain and suffering.

I just find it too depressing, too inadequate, a substitute for God.

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