Smells Like Teen Spirit

19 Sep

I am so behind! I am reading books faster than I can write reviews of them, so I’m going to double up today. They’re by the same author, so it’s hardly even cheating.

Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns are, respectively, the second and third books I’ve read by John Green, young adult author extraordinaire. The first, The Fault in Our Stars, I reviewed back in May.

As novels go, John Green’s are “for teenagers” by virtue of two main factors: 1) They’re compulsively easy to read, and beg to be consumed in a single sitting, and 2) They tend to be about people in high school. Otherwise, the (often dark) themes Green explores in his books are wholly adult, in a way that reminds you how one’s teens are truly the last barrier between the innocence of youth and the encroaching cynicism of old age.

Perhaps a better critique of Green (than the oft-repeated negative stereotypes about young adult fiction) is that his books have, let’s say, a theme. The Fault in Our Stars was about a young boy who falls in love with a truly unique and heart-breaking teen girl, both of whom have cancer. Looking For Alaska is about a nerdy teenage boy falling in love with a wild-child free spirit at his prep school. And Paper Towns is about, well, a nerdy young boy falling in loving with a wild-child free spirit at his high school. I’m simplifying all three plots of course (and doing no justice to the awesome writing that reveals them) but suffice it to say that John Green must have had some crush in high school, to be so fixated on the nuance of nerdy boy/intrepid girl teen romance.

This isn’t, mind you, the overly dramatic bodice-ripping (?) tween love of the Twilight series. Green’s characters fall in love the way you really do in high school. His teen boys are intelligent doofuses, cursed with social awkwardness, but blessed with brains and the kind of adorable quirks that will probably make them heartthrobs at the local coffee house in college. Green’s teenage girls are damaged but smart, with a flair for the mysterious. Most importantly, they have personalities, something Twilight would have you believe female teenagers are sorely lacking.

Perhaps because high school is the first time any of us have any real depth, relationships developed in that timeframe seem all the more important. Outside of our family members, these are the first friendships based on anything even remotely connected to the adult person we will come to be, and even though we must have objectively understood the unlikelihood of ending up with our high school sweethearts, it still seemed unfathomable that those people (or that person) in particular would ever be reduced to a casual acquaintance in the Facebook News Feed. Ah, the frailty of youth.

If nothing else, let my nostalgic ramblings about the importance of teendom prompt you to seek a more cohesive exploration of the subject in John Green. Green is most definitely a young adult novelist, but not because he writes books about young adults, or books that young adults can read. Rather, he has retained some muscle memory of what it means to be a teenager, and through his characters one can’t help but appreciate the beauty of what it feels like to be that age: “Young. Goofy. Infinite.

TITLE: Looking for Alaska
AUTHOR: John Green
PAGES: 221 (in paperback)
ALSO WROTE: The Fault in our Stars, Paper Towns
SORTA A LOT LIKE: A Separate Peace
FIRST LINE: “Everybody was sitting on sleeping bags.”


TITLE: Paper Towns
AUTHOR: John Green
PAGES: 305 (in paperback)
ALSO WROTE: The Fault in our Stars, Looking for Alaska
SORTA LIKE: Looking for Alaska meets Youth in Revolt
FIRST LINE: “With a bag in each hand, I paused for a moment outside the van, staring at her. ‘Well, it was a helluva night,’ I said finally.”

One Response to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”


  1. My [Personal] Top 10 Books of 2012 « Sorry Television - December 27, 2012

    […] would make me laugh, which was so unexpected that I’d start to cry all over again. SORTA LIKE: Looking for Alaska meets A Long Way Down | [FULL […]

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