When you read quite a few books, you come across varying qualities of writing. There’s the good, the bad, and the just plain average. Of course, there are also times when you find an author that is so good that you want to read everything they’ve ever written and are even tempted to break into their house just to read their shopping list (okay, maybe not that last bit). Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen often, and sometimes when it does happen it just doesn’t work out – case in point: last time I fell in love with Harper Lee’s writing, only to discover that she basically only ever wrote one book. But sometimes it does happen, and the author has written plenty for you to read. In fact, it happened to me just a month or so ago, when I discovered the writing of John Green.
It’s a bit of a long story to explain how I heard about John Green in the first place and eventually ended up reading his writing. Basically, it all started when I saw a pseudo-review for the Fault in Our Stars on the WordPress Freshly Pressed page (you can read the blog post here – thanks Caorthine and WordPress!). It sounded like a good book, but I decided to browse about the internet, finding out everything there was to know about the book that wasn’t actually the book first. It was through this that I found out that John Green was, in addition to being an author, also a video-blogger who ran a joint YouTube channel with his brother, Hank Green. In case you haven’t heard of it, the channel is called Vlogbrothers, and more or less consists of John and Hank taking it in turns to send each other videos about often-random-but-frequently-funny topics. There’s a whole community based around it, called Nerdfighteria (members are Nerdfighters – nerds that fight, not people who fight nerds), and the Green brothers have together created a wealth of what are now everyday terms to many
people Nerdfighters, such as puppy-sized elephants, DFTBA (Don’t Forget to Be Awesome), and ftl (French The Llama). And because the Vlogbrothers videos are just that good, I became completely addicted to watching them and forgot about The Fault in Our Stars completely.
But I remembered eventually, when I saw one of John Green’s videos in which he mentioned his latest book (i.e. The Fault in Our Stars). After reading as much as Amazon’s Look Inside! feature would allow, I ordered the book and started reading it as soon as it arrived. Now, a few months later, I can safely say I’m very glad I did. The thing is, even though The Fault in Our Stars is a young adult book filled with young adult characters, it has several parts to it that many teen books lack: proper characterisation, a plot that develops gradually and can stand on its own without cumbersome assistance, and writing that is good enough to remember in its own right. Some might say that whether or not TFiOS is a young adult novel makes no difference to what sort of quality book it should be. This could be true, but when 75% of the recent teen books you regularly encounter are full of unrealistically flawless non-human love interests and/or whiny teenage girls, you appreciate a great teen novel all the more.
By now you’re probably wondering “But what is The Fault in Our Stars really about?” (either that or you’ve already Googled it, in which case you should feel guilty for not being patient enough). Without giving too much away, I will try to explain. The main plot revolves around Hazel, a 16-year-old girl who has terminal cancer and is the narrator of the story. Before the events of the book, she has mostly been lying around the house, re-reading An Imperial Affliction, her favourite book, and being depressed. Her mother is concerned about Hazel’s unhappiness and convinces her to attend a support group for cancer sufferers and survivors, where Hazel meets Augustus Waters, a 17-year-old boy in remission. I really don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll just say that the whole thing snowballs from there. Of course I can’t stop you from looking up more about what happens if you want, but I highly recommend you try not to if you have any intention of reading the book.
My plot description isn’t the most informative, I know, but it is quite difficult to put into words why TFiOS is so deserving of all this praise. If I was John Green, I probably could; as things currently stand, I can only try. It’s the sort of book whose characters and ideas seem to exist outside of the frame of the story itself – they’re that realistic and memorable – and the writing is so funny and poignant and quotable that you just feel addicted to reading it. I’ll stop trying to explain it now, but I will say that the book was good enough for me to immediately want to read more of John Green’s work. As a result, I bought Looking For Alaska, another one of Green’s novels, a couple of weeks ago. It was well-written, the characters likeable and funny, and I’m certainly glad I read it. It wasn’t quite as amazing as TFiOS, but perhaps I would have thought it was a masterpiece if I hadn’t already read one of Green’s books.
All in all, I think John Green is a wonderful writer. His books are worth a read even if you’re only a little bit interested in them. Admittedly, after a trip to Dymocks (an Aussie bookstore) in which I heard about 3 different teenage girls talking about and 1 searching the database for John Green, I started to understand how his books might be lumped with other teenager-y novels. That said, I think his books are worth more than that and should be viewed (and read) with an open mind – I think you’d be glad you did. PS: And the Vlogbrothers is great too.