Saturday, 19 September 2015

Why I dislike John Green

Let’s face it – famous people have a hard life. Nobody’s really indifferent towards them (myself included), meaning that they either receive e-mail proposals (rings and all, apparently) or blood-soaked hate mail on a daily basis. But there are celebrity problems and then there are bestselling author problems.

John Green has bestselling author problems. Half the time he’s in the spotlight as one of the best YA authors of the decade, and then he spends the other half watching teenagers hurl abuse at him for making racist comments, misrepresenting their generation or just being "downright rude". The poor man can barely carry on with his job… or, various jobs: hanging around the movie sets for adaptions of his latest novels, filming YouTube videos with his brother, and writing, obviously. He’s either seen as the all-holy leader of misfit teens, or a problematic middle-aged misogynist who must be stopped.

But you’ve seen the heading of this post, so you already know where I’m going with this. I’ll get on with it, then.

I dislike John Green. Not “hate”. Dislike.

I see you making this face right now, but let me explain,
okay? Okay. (Maybe okay will be our always.)

Don’t get me wrong – I really, really want to love John Green. I adored The Fault In Our Stars. I thought it was one of the most beautiful novels I’d ever read at the time. At fifteen, I just wanted to soak up all the goodness I saw in that book and radiate it onto other people.

But then I grew up, just a teeny tiny bit, and read some more of his stuff. And cringed.

I’m one of those people who strongly believe in speaking out against the things that make us uncomfortable. It’s one of the ways in which we develop strong opinions on topical issues and alert others of the problems of which we have become aware. But that said, I’m hesitant to use the word “hate” against somebody like John Green, who really isn’t trying to destroy anyone’s life for his own personal gain, contrary to popular belief.

I’ve read three of Green’s five novels (I’m still debating whether I should delve into Will Grayson, Will Grayson and An Abundance of Katherines) and his short story in Let It Snow. All that to say I’m not exactly an expert on all things Green. But a few things about him have made me ever so slightly uncomfortable, which is why I want to address them here.

Firstly, I struggle to understand how such an influential man in the YA world isn’t making more of an effort to redefine the genre. The Fault In Our Stars was a breakthrough novel, managing to expand Green’s audience past the teens who read consistently to those who wouldn’t have dared to pick up the book if it hadn’t been for the success of the film. And Green does write very well – his prose is simple and accessible, always allowing his story to take center stage but with a bit of added flair that a lot of other authors don’t get right. But his novels conform to rather than rebel against the restrictions of contemporary YA fiction, such as the constant presence of romance, attractive characters and a quirky protagonist. He could redefine YA as we know it with one novella! Why isn’t he trying?

I also found myself muttering, “Why isn’t John Green embracing diversity in his novels?” whenever I picked up Looking For Alaska or Paper Towns. YA is supposed to be something that you can lose yourself in, regardless of your age, gender, size, smell, race, religion, hair colour, relationship status, what have you. For somebody who claims to be an advocate for teenagers wanting to be different, his representation of characters in novels is extremely limited. Nerdy teenage boy (usually the protagonist), extremely hot teenage girl (love interest), comic relief (boy’s best friend)… Most of his characters are attractive, white, heterosexual, middle-class teenagers. What does this say about everyone else? Where’s the diversity?

Additionally, there’s the way he accidentally (?) misrepresents things. Key example: feminism in Looking For Alaska. Green attempted to represent a badass feminist character, but unfortunately he failed miserably. Alaska talks a lot about equality and women’s rights, but somebody who was that desperate for constant male attention is not exactly the poster-child for girl-power. At times, I also got the distinct feeling he was mocking feminism through Alaska’s eccentricity, but I hope to every star in the heavens that I’m just being pedantic, otherwise I might have to introduce the book to my high-powered shredder, and its remains to a jug of gasoline and a lighter.

And then there’s his point about nerdy girls being a romantic resource and literary device rather than… um… people…

…which made me a little bit nauseous, because now there are at least a million teenage girls out there thinking it’s admirable to become a literary device, to turn themselves into somebody like Alaska or Margo, neither of whom are healthy human beings.

Green also toes the line between accurately representing teenage characters that smoke and drink and are generally “broken souls” as he defines them, and encouraging such behavior through his novels. This is an extremely dangerous way to go, especially considering his huge audience of younger readers.

All that to say, John Green has a lot of potential to become a super awesome human being and possibly change the world (or at least the teen reading world). I wanna see him do it. I do not want to see predictable characters and formulaic storylines in his upcoming novels – I want him to push the boundaries, I want him to pull another The Fault In Our Stars, but with diverse characters and a new twist on contemporary YA.

Oooooorrr maybe I'm just crazy. What do you guys think? Do you love John Green, but also want to see him push the boundaries a little? Or are you among those who just can't stand him, despite all his good intentions?


  1. I'm not a fan of John Green either. I don't enjoy his books. I couldn't stand paper towns and just felt meh about TFIOS. That's the beauty of reading, we can like and dislike whoever we want. Love your post and you made some great points.

  2. I've read only 2 of his books and I definitely do not consider myself a John Green fan. I mean, I don't hate the guy but I just don't see what all the hype is about. I did really enjoy Will Grayson, Will Grayson but I honestly don't think I'll be reading his other books. I agree with you concerning Alaska. It did feel like he was making fun of her feminist side rather than put it in a positive light.

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