King of Young Adult Fiction and YouTube
John Green is the New York Times bestselling author of Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns. The American author, who can usually be found in Indiana or YouTube, came to London to talk about his latest book, The Fault in Our Stars. To say The Fault in Our Stars was a runaway hit would be an understatement. Before the book’s publication, Green pre signed an incredible 150,000 copies, it reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller list for children’s books and stayed there for seven consecutive weeks. The Fault in Our Stars UK Tour was a sell out and on February 2nd, in Cadogan Hall, he was greeted by 905 animated fans.
Green worked as a chaplain during the year 2000 and met a lot of sick children and described it as a difficult job as he watched the worst thing that could happen to a family, the death of a child. After leaving that position, he began writing short stories set in a children’s hospital, which didn’t feature a great deal of patients or hospital, but rather a narrator that was a chaplain and was always described as “adverb handsome”. This slightly autobiographical story took a back seat as Green wrote Looking for Alaska and was explored in between the two solo and collaborative novels that followed.
What comes across clearly is Green’s passion for writing, but more importantly, writing about the right thing at the right time. As an author, he wants to give the audience a gift, a story written with generosity. The right time came after meeting Esther Earl, a fan of Green’s books and an inspirational young person suffering with thyroid cancer. In knowing Esther, Green began to think differently about the heroic ventures of the “adverb handsome” chaplain.
He noted that, too often, “the stories about sick people are really about healthy people”, they are about that sick person coming into a healthy person’s life, through their suffering and untimely death, the healthy person is better from the experience, suggesting “the reason that this person existed and suffered and died was so that you could learn a lesson!” Green selflessly losses the chaplain voice, and gives it to the children. This change in story teller grew and developed into The Fault in Our Stars, the #1 Wall Street Journal bestseller and New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice.
The discussion opened to questions. What was the hardest part of The Fault in Our Stars to write? The ending, particularly, the last ten pages; upon completion he admitted to “collapsing into a puddle of sobs”. This is an awkward thing to do a coffee shop. “I’m sure they thought I was a strange person. As far as they knew, I’d just show up every morning around 7.30, 8 o’clock, open my computer and cry for four hours. Close my computer and left, thanking them on my way out. ‘Thanks for another great day!’”
How did you come up with the names? The book took approximately ten years to write, which gives you a lot of time to experiment with names. The central female character and narrator is Hazel, an in between colour for an in between girl. She is in between wellness and death, and “teenagereness and adulterness”. The central male starts as an Augustus, a Roman Emperor type figure with a sense of performativity and using words that he doesn’t quite know the meaning of. Throughout the novel, this protective front is slowly stripped down and he becomes Gus, the name of a little child, a name that makes you think of small things. Green notes that that is the journey of a true hero, from strength to weakness. The character learns not to be Augustus, his ideal self but Gus, his true self.
There are many books that are aimed at an adult audience and those that are aimed at young adult audience. Like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The Book Thief and The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas, John Green’s books can and should be read by both audiences. It deserves all of the critical acclaim it has received. USA Today called it “A pitch-perfect, elegiac comedy” and Time Magazine “damn near genius”. The Fault in Our Stars has been published for over a year and it’s a book that wouldn’t be shying away from the spotlight any time soon. The film rights were brought a month after the book’s publication and the internet is full of rumours and cast speculation. So read it now, not because the book is always better, but because it is uplifting and inspirational. And as John Green says in his home town: don’t forget to be awesome.
Susan Hill Challenge:
Looking for Alaska by John Green * * * * *
It’s remarkably deep, embrace maturity, youth and Alaska Young.
Paper Town by John Green * * * *
Mystery of a girl and love story of a boy.