Seeing Stars: An Encounter with John Green
John Green with Heather Thompson, Heather Beverley and Ellen Jennings.
Don’t be too jealous … last week two of my colleagues and I were lucky enough to snag tickets to hear John Green deliver the Zena Sutherland Lecture entitled “Does YA Mean Anything Anymore? Genre in a Digitized World” at Chicago Public Library. Sound boring? Then, you don’t know John Green very well.
Who’s John Green, you ask?? Only the hottest YA author right now and he’s only going to get more famous in the next few weeks. Just ask any teen about The Fault in Our Stars. Quick background for newbies: John Green has been writing books for young adults since 2006 when Looking for Alaska was published. That book was read by just a few, according to Green, until it won the ALA’s Printz Award for “exemplifying literary excellence in young adult fiction.” His next three books sold well enough and won some awards, but with the 2012 publication of The Fault in Our Stars and its movie which will be released in June, John Green has become a YA god and we cannot keep any of his books on our shelves at Cook Park or Aspen Drive Libraries. Even adults are discovering his magic.
So what is it about John Green that is so magical? First of all, he’s funny, self-deprecating, adorably cute and super smart. More importantly, he really ‘gets’ teens and the world in which they live. He addresses the big issues in their lives like drugs, sex, bullying, suicide and cancer. His characters work through their problems together with humor and bravery, and the reader turns the last page feeling hopeful. He respects teens and gives them credit for being capable and resilient.
In his lecture at the Chicago Public Library, John Green described himself as a shy and anxious boy who read The Babysitters’ Club series because someone had told him they would help him understand girls. He admits to being a still-anxious adult who worries about, among other things, the state of the publishing industry today. Will the Big Box stores and Amazon-ization of bookselling mean that only the giant best-selling authors like James Patterson and Janet Evanovich, will get paid enough money to be able to continue writing? He also worries about the prevalence of screens and video games in the lives of teens today.
He believes that only good literature can shine a light into the deep darkness within each person enabling them to see that they are not alone in their pain and angst. He believes that if teens are willing to invest the same amount of time in reading a book that they are willing to spend playing video games like World of Warcraft, they will be better human beings as a result. His books don’t hit teens over the head with a moral, but he writes about real world issues and his books help teens understand that “the world outside of you is more vast than the world inside of you." Green himself has a clear memory of that eye-opening moment, after reading a great book, when he realized that people other than himself might have similar problems and similar emotions. See, what I mean? He really ‘gets’ teens.
And teens love him, too! The first row at the Zena Sutherland lecture was filled with attentive teens and the teen girl sitting next to me released a little squeal whenever he said something that resonated with her. After the lecture, I chatted briefly with her and learned that she was a foreign exchange student from Brazil and that she’s read all his books and The Fault in Our Stars is her FAVORITE book ever! As we waited in the reception line after his talk, ahead of us were more teens chatting with their idol and, if evidenced by their tears, some were clearly sharing with him just how much their books had meant to them. We, being mature adults, simply introduced ourselves and calmly asked if we could get a picture taken with the biggest rock star in YA literature in the world right now. He smiled his cute grin and put his arms around us and we posed for a selfie. Best. Night. Ever. Squee!!!!