I have always loved John Green’s books since the first time I picked one up. He writes YA Fiction, but he writes content with which I connect even as an adult. His stories tell of the human condition, and characters (especially the girls) are complex, nuanced, and flawed. They are people, not ideas of people.
Since Hulu’s Looking For Alaska limited series was just released, the conversation has resurged as to whether John Green’s books are realistic representations of teenagers. The most frequent complaint I hear is that teenagers don’t speak the way that John Green writes dialogue. This irks me because people who think that aren’t giving teens enough credit. There’s a prevailing misnomer that teens are shallow, that they only think about sex and sports, that they are stupid. While they may make unintelligent decisions due to poor impulse control, underdeveloped coping mechanisms, a period of rapid brain development, and a self-fulfilling prophecy (society expecting the worst of them), they are not dumb!
Teenagers face the same existential questions which we do, even if their scope of experience to draw from isn’t as extensive. Abstract thinking has been found in studies to progress most during adolescence (age 10-19) due to the development of the rostral prefrontal cortex. This results in teens being able to think about and discuss topics outside of their direct environment and stimuli.
So yes, they get pretentious as hell.
I was the characters that people so staunchly outcry as unrealistic. My best friends were those characters. Most of the people with which I surrounded myself were those characters. We talked about movies and love interests, but we also discussed life, existence, the way the world works, the harsh realities, everything including the painful and difficult topics. People who think of John Green’s characters as simply “too smart,” or “awkward nerds,” or “manic pixie dream girls,” (can I insert an audible eye roll here?) are completely missing the point that the books make time and time again–we are more than other people’s ideas about us.
More than all that, I will remind folks that there is variance within John Green’s characters saying profound things and deeply unprofound things.
Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars may have said during her internal monologue, “…[A]nd it occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again,” but she also said, “I have an Augustus Waters fetish.” Super meaningful, right? Alaska Young from Looking for Alaska might have been obsessed with getting out of the labyrinth of suffering, but she also told someone, “That’s because you have eight functioning brain cells.” That touches my soul. Hassan from An Abundance of Katherines goes on a diatribe saying, “Do you know what your problem is? You can’t live with the idea that someone might leave…You’re so goddamn scared of the idea that someone might dump you that your whole fuggin life is built around not getting left behind.” On the very next page, he states, “I might be gay if I had a better-looking best friend.” Yeahhhh, that’s not how that works buddy.
But, that’s exactly how people are. They aren’t 100% pretentious or 100% shallow. People need to acknowledge that teens are smart and multi-faceted just like everybody else.
John Green has certainly made a great impact on the YA fiction world by treating his audience like the real folks that they are. He recognizes and addresses meaningful issues through his characters. Not only has he connected with teenagers, but he has inspired me to write for the YA genre. Authors like Stephen Chbosky, John Green, Sarah Dessen, and Angie Thomas (among many, many others) have reshaped the face of YA fiction for the better. I, for one, am beyond excited to become a voice in that world.