We all have our favorite places and ideas that we like to reside in, and authors, like the rest of us, return and frequent the same ones. After reading "The Fault in Our Stars" for the first time and rereading "Looking for Alaska," I started noticing where John Green likes to frequent and his “formula” for writing. By formula, I mean the elements that Green frequently included in many (satisfying) plot lines. Spoiler alert: don’t read on if you don’t want "The Fault in Our Stars" or "Looking for Alaska" ruined.
1. Pain and catharsis
"The Fault in Our Stars?" Two cancer kids. "Looking for Alaska?" Death and its aftermath. One might ask Nicholas Sparks the same question that we should ask John Green… how does he get away with killing off so many characters? Well, Green deals with it. While writing to such a young audience, Green first provides the pieces of how to grapple with death, and second, he puts the puzzle together. In both "The Fault in Our Stars" and "Looking for Alaska," Green lets the characters' worlds shatter, but slowly pieces them back together.
2. Alive characters
They prank. They cry. They laugh. They make up ridiculous nicknames. They are loud. They go on road trips. They are real and palpable unlike many young adult dystopian protagonists. I believe that Pudge and Gus are going through painful stuff, and it is painful stuff I can relate to more than getting chosen for the Hunger Games. Even though I love reading "The Hunger Games," sometimes I need to slip into a character that has personal problems instead of societal problems.
3. Allusions allusions allusions
Green makes me want to be well-read. Every book challenges me to go research someone, reread that Shakespeare play or skim that dusty biography. In "Looking for Alaska," Alaska obsesses over Simon Bolivar’s labyrinth and Francois Rabelais’ Great Perhaps, which become metaphors for Alaska’s own escape and Pudge’s journey through suffering. And of course the awful, ironic faults in Hazel and Augustus’ stars… the cancer. The unfortunate realization that unlike Cassius, who says man’s downfall is because of himself, their downfall is written in the stars (which always struck me as sad cross between "Romeo and Juliet" and "Julius Caesar").
But why does “The John Green Formula" work? Why are teens and young adults so in love with his writing? Because 1) he is not afraid to push us to be avid readers so he can write beautiful prose. Green doesn’t settle to be at my level; he challenges me to read up to his level. And 2) he writes about real teen issues, like death and self-confidence. Because sometimes we don’t need another love story, we need more books to teach us how to be strong, to grieve and to forgive.