I looked back at the John Green books and wow, I’ve never cringed so much

They were essentially glorified Tumblr fan fiction

It’s been nearly 10 years since The Fault In Our Stars was released. The novel was undoubtedly John Green’s most commercially successful novel, it became a blockbuster movie and had everyone sharing quotes about “forever within the numbered days” on Tumblr. But on reflection this book and John Green’s other teen novels just weren’t that good.

Look I’m happy to admit it, as a young teenager who wasn’t exactly cool in school, the John Green books were my life. The spoke to the shy, weird and bookish teenagers, which I definitely was. And like many teenagers on the internet I would share quotes, draw infinity symbols on my arm in biro and was generally in love with Augustus Waters.

For teenagers in a romance starved generation, we had some truly epic books to dive into to feed our idealistic teen phase. The Hunger Games and the Twilight Saga were elite but because of the fantasy element some people wouldn’t admit to openly enjoying them. But the John Green books were cooler. They were about smoking, drinking and dating. They featured the teenagers you wanted to be and also recognised yourself in them for their relatable faults.

However looking back on these books now they were essentially well edited Tumblr fanfiction. And there’s nothing wrong with fanfiction. But there is something wrong with praising John Green for becoming creating something 13 year old girls are doing in their bedrooms for free.

Every book revolves around a white slightly uncool guy and his two best friends and the unattainable girl he’s put on a pedestal only to find out she’s not as perfect as he originally thought. His most famous novels romanticised a lot of dark and serious subjects, were the epitome of the manic pixie girl trope and generally fairly cringe.

I looked back at his five novels from our teenage years to reminisce and see just how awful they really were:

Looking For Alaska

Where do I even begin with all the problems of Looking For Alaska? The whole novel feels like it’s been plucked straight from 2011 Tumblr.

In the novel Miles goes to a new boarding school. The first half of the novel focuses on his adventures with his three mates, including the girl of his dreams – Alaska. The second half of the story kinda has a detective feel with Miles and his friends trying to find out what happened to Alaska on the night she died.

The glaringly obvious problem with this book is the manic pixie dream girl trope that is heavily applied to Alaska. She’s mysterious, attractive, intelligent, and always slightly out of reach. Alaska could be summed up with the phrase “she’s not like other girls”, she’s gorgeous but plays video games with the guys and isn’t interested in typically girly things. It’s a boring old trope and she is basically a character who exists for Miles’ own character development rather than being an individual in her own right.

And then there’s the romanticisation of her death which is often thought to be suicide. It turns into a mystery for Miles to solve, continuing the theme of Alaska as an enigma even after her death.

This novel was also the start of John Green’s obsession with giving his male characters weird interests as “personality traits”. For example Miles has an obsession with famous people’s last words as a substitute for a personality.

It’s a whole novel fuelled by the brooding “deep thoughts” of a straight white male and I don’t understand why we liked it so much.

An Abundance of Katherines

Yet another novel about a depressed straight white male. The main plot point of the book is that the main character Colin hasn’t had his “eureka” moment to make him a genius yet and he needs to solve this. Cry me a river.

It’s literally every nerdy maths boy’s wet dream. He’s dated 19 girls all called Katherine and tries to make a theorem about relationship based on these girls. Yet again women are idealised but don’t get their own voice.

Similarly to Looking For Alaska, John Green has tried to make it diverse by placing an Asian character in the best friend role but not in the actual main character spot.

Paper Towns

The whole point of Paper Towns was to dismantle and inspect John Green’s own myth of the unattainable woman, and yet he just did the whole thing again. He didn’t destroy the stereotype he just added to it.

The entire concept is about a guy who literally drives cross country, misses his high school graduation, just to “rescue” a girl. I’m all for a simp, but there’s levels you know, and this was bordering on stalking.

The whole “having to save her” concept was supposed to challenge the manic pixie dream girl trope by having Margo turn around and say she didn’t want him to find her. I get what point he was trying to make here, but it just fell flat as Margo still doesn’t have a voice throughout most of the novel, she’s the object of Q’s affection and is then a disappointment when she doesn’t live up to his expectations.

Paper Towns also features John Green’s consistent writing habit of giving his characters “interesting” nicknames. We’ve all had nicknames at school, some of them shortened versions of our actual names and some of them pretty mean. However John Green takes them to another level. For example Marcus has the nickname of Radar. What kind of name is that? Maybe it’s an American thing, but c’mon guys chill out with the cringe nicknames.

Also can we discuss how awful Cara Delevingne’s acting was in the movie adaptation? That American accent. Yikes.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson

Ok so I haven’t actually read this one however after a quick Google I can just tell it’s a no go. It’s literally about two boys with the same name who met one day and their lives change forever. Snore.

The Fault In Our Stars

You know I saved the worst for last. The essential premise of this book that every teenage girl read is this – girl has cancer, girl meets boy, they fall in love, boy dies from cancer. It was the plot twist we all should have seen coming and yet there we all were balling our eyes out at Gus dying.

There are many problems with this novel, the first being it’s basically a romanticisation of cancer. I know John Green tries to minimise it by putting in more explicit details about cancer treatment but it’s still about two ill teenagers who love each other and therefore can’t be together long term because one of them will soon die. This isn’t some Romeo and Juliet shit, it’s two kids dying from a horrible disease.

Another big part of the whole plot was Gus and Hazel’s obsession with the made up book “An Imperial Affliction”. Look I love books more than anyone, but seriously travelling to Amsterdam just to meet the grumpy author? It’s a waste of time and energy. I think another reason why I cringe so much at those moments is the reminder of how as teenagers we get so obsessed with something that we’d travel across the Atlantic just to get some answers.

I think a big reason why this book is so annoying was everyone else’s hype around it. It was almost as intense as the Twilight fandom and for what? A cute romance story about two ill teenagers. People would get tattoos of quotes, say “okay?” to each other 24/7 and it was just generally annoying.

And then of course there is one of the worst scenes in literature possibly ever, when they kiss in Anne Frank’s house. Seriously. Why?

It’s not only a demonstration of peak annoying American tourists, but also just plain disrespectful and then when everyone clapped around them. Nah I can’t. John Green what were you thinking?

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