Everybody Loves John Green’s Books… But I Don’t

Warning: Here be spoilers for The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska. If you feel strongly in support of any of the aforementioned books, please look away now.

I currently fear for my life. I believe I’ve woken a sleeping monster which has the unbridled potential to wipe me out alongside every member of my family and my friends. I have roused a powerful enemy from its slumber due to a simple fact. A mere confession…

I don’t like John Green.

My friends tried to warn me that, by saying this, I risk catching a lot of flak from his supporters. After all, John Green – novelist, video blogger, etc, etc – is the King of Tumblr and a Lord of YouTube.

But I don’t like him.

Well, here’s the thing: it’s not him I dislike. In fact, Green seems to be in every way charming and generous and charitable and kind; he’s also used his wealth to support the developing world and various venerable organisations. It’s his books I don’t like.

You see, every single person who recommended him to me – every single one – told me that The Fault in Our Stars was the most heart-wrenching, profound, intelligent and humble book they’d ever read.

This was not the case. Like the cheap curios of a travelling salesman, Green peddles faux-existentialism and cheap nihilism to an audience that will merely sit there, placidly, waiting for him to tell them more.

I had no problem with the prose or the characters or the plot, all of which were mostly solid. It was the subject matter and the way in which he executed it which was problematic.

Here’s an example: his irritating habit of pointing out literary techniques in TFiOS. I understand that Augustus Waters is intended to be a wannabe hero, with a legacy that will rival soaring works of art and literature, therefore he points out metaphors but… it doesn’t work. The thing about Green is that he tells readers that they should look for metaphors and that they should seek deeper meaning in art. Green mentions no fewer than ten different artists and philosophers in the book.

No character’s emotions are ever left in the air. Every thought Hazel has is spelled out. Augustus verbalises everything, both eliminating ambiguity and making the dialogue far less natural.

Imagine if you went to an art gallery and, tacked next a beautiful painting, the artist had written a short note. Not the usual information – Oil on Canvas, painted 1979, etc – but the artist had explained what they were showing and what they meant when they painted the picture. Stupid, right? The whole point is for the viewer to try and understand the painting themselves.

This is the great and terrible irony of John Green’s works.

Also, TFiOS is not just a work of art but a forged work of art. It follows a contrived and clichéd pattern of young adult novels that have been rife since The Catcher in the Rye. Yet, in this oh-so-impressive amalgamation of these ideas, he destroys any originality. We get it: teenagers are moody. A lot of them exhibit quasi-existentialist beliefs. I say quasi, because Green simplifies things to the point of no return. None of the original philosophy is left, just a WikiAnswers-esque whistlestop tour of the ideology that is sure to appeal to those who have, at least once, thought about death.

His books are not heart-breaking. His books are not profound.

Infinitely worse than his books, though, are his supporters. I’ve never found a better example of non-ironic hyperbole in my life. According to them, John Green is literally the best thing to happen to teenagers ever. God, I’m so glad someone gets me.

They talk of how they’re going to bring crates of tissues to a film which has a tragic ending they already know about. They talk of his ideas about death. They talk of how, not only are his books the most interesting and profound works of art ever, his ideas are so perfect and have never been discussed before. It makes you wonder whether they’ve read any of the classic YA novels that constantly return to these themes…

Conclusion: Green’s books package an easy-to-digest (albeit wholly inaccurate) philosophy handbook phrased in a way which many think is new and clever but actually lacks original thought. Throw in pretentious characters, done-to-death plot arcs and an annoying habit of pointing out metaphors and you end up with your run-of-the-mill John Green novel.

I’m sorry, John Green. I truly am. But your pseudo-philosophy irritates me.

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