John Green: Where Adulthood and Youth Intersect
Updated: Dec 11, 2021
by Jay Kim
There is perhaps no other author who better represents the 21st century teenager than John Green. Although Green’s books have been criticized for being cliché, his books uniquely portray teenage characters in a world of intersections. His characters live in a space between lightheartedness and seriousness, recklessness and maturity, and youth and adulthood. For much of Green’s audience, this is a phase of their life that no one else writes about quite the way he does, and what keeps them coming back.
Take for example, John Green’s 2005 debut novel, Looking for Alaska. The main character, Miles, and his group of friends, enjoy typical high school antics: pranks, drinking, parties, and so on. The kind of recklessness and freedom that Miles and his friends insist on living with is liberating for teenagers, who aspire to a life free from academic stress. However, the novel also focuses on a more serious note as well. Alaska, one of Miles’ friends whom he idealizes, drives away drunk one night after receiving a phone call that turns her hysterical, leading to her death in a car crash. The rest of the book focuses on Miles and his friends attempting to find answers about her death and their own lives in its aftermath. Though on the surface, they are looking for answers to questions about Alaska’s death, there lies a greater theme of self-discovery underneath. Dealing with loss, and attempting to find meaning to life despite the grief that they’re suffering, forces the characters to examine life from a more mature perspective. This duality within the book shows the characters as both carefree, fun youth, while also being forced to deal with more somber, adult issues.
Another such book is Paper Towns, in which outcast Quentin Jacobsen goes on a search with his friends for his childhood friend Margo Spiegelman who suddenly disappears from home. Once again, many of the experiences and feelings of the characters are ones that teenagers can easily relate to: cliques, crushes, and the complexities of friendship. John Green is also able to approach Margo’s disappearance and Quentin’s near-obsession with her
in a lighthearted, simple manner, which enhances that mood of the novel. Throughout Quentin’s attempts to interpret “clues” that Margo has left behind, Quentin comes to believe
Margo deliberately left him clues to come and find her, because despite their different social
statuses at school, he was ultimately her only true friend. On graduation day, Quentin deciphers a final clue that allows him to conclude where Margo is, and he and his friends recklessly ditch graduation in favor of finding Margo in New York. Up to this point, the novel is still lighthearted and happy in its approach to Quentin’s quest. However, when they find Margo, she is upset with them for having found her, as that was not her intent. Quentin is forced to face the reality in which he had idealized Margo and had largely wanted to find her
so that he could “save” her and become her knight in shining armor; however, Margo had never wished to become a damsel in distress. The end of the novel deals with deeper issues of idealization, self-reflection, and ultimately, responsibilities, as Quentin rejects Margo’s offer
of leaving with her (despite wanting to himself), knowing that he has responsibilities at home
and at school that are more important. Again, the dichotomy in the book give a unique perspective on the contrast that teenagers face in their lives as well between lightheartedness and maturity.
Although facing criticism is inevitable as an author, it is undeniable that John Green’s
books have a unique appeal that will always distinctly appeal to teenagers. The dichotomy in his books between two ends of a spectrum, immaturity and maturity, and youth and adulthood, gives a unique insight into the phase of teenagers’ lives that nobody else writes
about, and that intersectionality wins him a special place in many hearts.