If you weren’t aware of John Green before The Fault in Our Stars, then you might have missed out on his earlier works. All have a coming-of-age theme and explore the importance of other characters impressing upon the main character rather than event. People change, and people can change you.
Looking for Alaska
It’s Miles Halter’s first year at his new school, Culver Creek, a prestigious boarding school endorsed by his own father’s legacy. His old life was bland and forgettable, so Miles believes he needs to seek “a Great Perhaps” in a new place. Miles is very smart, fairly sheltered and entirely unadventurous until he meets his new roommate, Chip and Chip’s best friend Alaska. Miles, now nicknamed “Pudge” for his decided un-pudginess, has never met anyone like Alaska before. Now he can count two obsessions in his life: his penchant for memorizing the last words of famous dead people and Alaska Young. She is a complicated mix of a person: she loves books and has a whole library of books, most that she’s never read but plans to read; she has a boyfriend whom she loves very much but she flamboyantly flirts with Pudge; she plays the good girl but her mischievous and self-destructive qualities eventually win out; and she is beautiful but wholly untouchable. Pudge has fallen for her hard, and in Alaska, he finds his Great Perhaps, learning what it means to really live.
While it doesn’t outrightly say, this is somewhat of a mystery novel. Most definitely it is a coming-of-age story as Miles transforms and becomes more self-aware from the beginning to the end. Alaska herself is an enigma, who the reader must puzzle out just as Miles does. All in all, while I liked this novel, it wasn’t my favorite of these four of John Green’s books.
Note: Language, alchohol, cigarettes, and sexual circumstances.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson
For Will Grayson(1), his friendship with Tiny Cooper has meant there are numerous jokes about his apparently latent homosexuality. However, WG1 doesn’t have a girlfriend and doesn’t seem to have many friends, so to some, comments are fair game. As for Will Grayson(2), he actually is harboring the secret of his sexual identity even from his family and closest friends, all except for Isaac, a boy he’s met online. When WG(2) finally gets up enough courage to meet Isaac, he discovers the depth of cruelty people will go to just to find out their own curiosities. Despite his deep hurt, it must be fate that he meets WG(1) and the completely fabulous Tiny Cooper. With this new connection and the impending play about and directed by Tiny, both Will Graysons take chances and find themselves on an upward spiral, perhaps to discover love, acceptance, and how precious friendship can be.
This is possibly one of the few books I’ve ever read that revolve so complete about a secondary character, Tiny Cooper. Trying hard not to give much away here, but Tiny plays a huge part in both WGs lives. His character is part of a catalyst for change. Despite part of the book being fairly…depressing, especially by WG(2), the final result is very uplifting. It shows the journey people take towards seeing the part of themselves that is different/outcast by society, and shows them seeing how it makes them a better person and accepting it as a strength. It is yet another story of finding self-identity, but also about the power of friendship and acceptance.
Note: Language, sexual circumstances, and LGBTQ issues.
An Abundance of Katherines
An Abundance of Katherines finds newly graduated, and newly single, Colin Singleton embarking upon a road trip to find his Eureka moment, precisely, what is the deal with Katherines always dumping him. His best friend Hassan accompanies him, and together they find themselves in nowhere Tennessee visiting the grave of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand. When they arrive in Gutshot, Tennessee, Colin and Hassan are given jobs, to record the lives of the locals of Gutshot for a rich local. Meanwhile, Colin, a gifted boy who’s always been told of his genius, is struggling to figure out a theorem as to why Katherine’s dump him (this is ingenious really, and a description of the math resides at the end of the novel for those interested), and Hassan befriends some local teens. Their guide and host is Lindsay Lee Wells, who is also very smart and is beloved in the Gutshot. Colin, Hassan, and Lindsay reach their Eureka moments, but it isn’t quite what you would expect.
This is perhaps my favorite of all of John Green’s books, probably more so than The Fault in Our Stars only because I did not like An Imperial Affliction. Well, maybe it’s still second. Anyway, I loved the adventures and humor that run through this book, but also just the sense of how much one small summer can change your whole life and the way you look at your life. The summer between high school and college is a period of growing up for many reasons and this recalls some of that sense of the unknown.
Soon to be a major motion picture coming in 2015, Paper Towns follows Quentin Jacobsen as he goes on an adventure to search for the mysterious Margo Roth Spiegelman, his neighbor who also happens to be his greatest crush and a very popular girl in her own right. Before she leaves, she takes Quentin on a wild adventure, and Quentin just can’t believe everyone doesn’t care about finding her. Throughout his journey he comes to find the real Margo and not the Margo that everyone else sees. Also, Margo herself comes to realize the power of friendship and that there are those whotruly care about her.
Another transformative adventure about a boy chasing after a girl and finding himself in the process.
Paper Towns was full of great quirks and is a fascinating mystery. If you’re interested in abandoned places (towns, that Disney water park…) or pranks or scavenger hunts, you will like the details in this book. Another great lesson this book will remind you of is how great stories are, especially stories of adventures, maybe give you a sense of nostalgia for those great times, i.e. that one time your car got hit by a deer (Gilmore Girls reference) or maybe you visited an old hospital and got sick from the atmosphere (true story!).
Note: Language, alchohol, sexual circumstances, and general hilarity.
Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle
Recently optioned for film since the great success of TFIOS, Let It Snow is a perfect winter romance. After a strong storm blows in on Christmas Eve and thickly blankets a sleepy North Carolina town in Appalachia, a passing train gets stranded. The high snow drifts and a stuck train doesn’t stop one passenger, Jubilee, from braving the elements after her Christmas has been ruined and her boyfriend doesn’t have time for her. Her lonely rebellion and “screw you” to her crappy Christmas forges a path for other teenagers on the train and this sets off a domino effect for Christmas miracles. It’s an adventure, and what magic can happen during adventures! Find a little bit of romance as a girl takes a chance on an odd stranger, three friends undertake a dangerous race in the middle of the night for cheerleaders and hash browns, and one miserable girl tries to overcome her gloom by rescuing a teacup pig. It will leave you feeling warm and happy and longing for winter. Simply, quirkily magical.
Check out more from John Green at his website and his YouTube channel with his brother, Hank.