While I don’t agree with the sentiment that young adult literature should be considered invaluable or reserved only for its intended age group, I do recognize the excessive amount of smutt that leaks into young adult sections of bookstores and libraries.
Young adult literature is a powerhouse of business for publishers. Young readers and adult readers alike flock to these books. Harry Potter was so popular during its initial release that it changed the way media publishers presented their bestseller lists.
The last ten years has been good to the young adult market. It would stand to reason that emerging writers would likely try their hand at the category of literature that is selling. It would also stand to reason that publishers – who are essentially entrepreneurs – would be focused on the market that is most lucrative. Therefor, there is an immense amount of room for writers who just aren’t that great to slip in and become bestsellers.
John Green is not one of these people.
At first glance, all of us have some sort of assumption of young adult literature. My own assumption is a low expectation of the quality of the book, especially if it is a bestseller. Something about bestselling young adult literature screams that it will be a formulaic approach to capitalize on current trends.
Green is an exceptional writer. He has a clear concept of literature, and he weaves his love of it into each story. He is a contemporary to be reckoned with. He’s done what we all wish to do: be a bestseller but not a sellout.
The Fault in Our Stars is his well crafted story about being an adolescent and facing mortality. But it includes several important literary references, including a protagonist’s shared obsession with an author’s work.
His debut novel Looking for Alaska is a thoughtful portrayal of the intelligence and turbulent minds of youth. The search for the main character’s ultimate arrival to transcendence provides readers with a challenge not always provided for by contemporary young adult literature. Instead of being dramatic for the sake of having drama, this novel is grounded in realistic troubles and emotions. There are a heavy amount of literary references in this novel, particularly to Márquez and Vonnegut.
Green is telling young adults that loving words is acceptable. Seeking the truth of life and what happens after our story ends is acceptable. Being a human being is acceptable.
There is hope for our own era of literature when a man like John Green exists. From him we learn that literary success and literary merit can be mutually exclusive in the 21st century.
So why is Green a national hit? There are several reasons.
1. He is undoubtedly an excellent writer.
2. He plays the marketing game by participating in social media and personal interactions with his readers.
3. He is compelling in his portrayal of the lives and problems of his characters.
4. He is funny as well as thoughtful and sophisticated.
5. He cares and is willing to the work to craft his story and readership.