Given my enjoyment of Paper Towns, I decided to see if lightning would strike twice. Or, rather, three times, as I basically purged the local library of all of its John Green stash. And you know, for better or worse, I think Green is about to go on my ‘favourite authors’ list. Don’t get my wrong; after a lifetime of avid reading and a literature degree, it’s a pretty long list, but having said that, after a lifetime of avid reading and a literature degree, I can be pretty discerning.
I still have reservations about the optimism Green has for his central characters’ intelligence, and the way that they speak. As a former high school teacher, I’ve spent enough time around adolescents to know that much of their actual dialogue can sound to an adult ear like a great host of monosyllabic grunts. But I’ve also spent enough time around adolescents to know that some of them (just some) can be wonderfully insightful, deeply introspective, and capable of wonderful things. So I can still forgive Green, as I’ve said before, in that even if teenagers don’t really speak this way, I don’t care because I like that he is optimistic about them; I like that it makes for great writing.
So Will Grayson, Will Grayson is about two different boys, both named Will Grayson, living very different and separate lives, both with their own share of challenges. They are suddenly and unexpectedly brought together one night by 1st Will Grayson’s friend, Tiny Cooper, a rather incongruous character who, I must admit, still has me a little baffled. I can’t quite decide (and I’ve had a few weeks now) if I like this character or not. Perhaps that’s the point. I don’t know. Tiny Cooper is anything but tiny, and has a big personality to match. He’s a musical theatre fan, and he also happens to be gay, and constantly falling in and out of love. Green has created a very interesting character. In fact, I found myself reading this thinking it would make a wonderful film (as Green’s books tend to do) and I couldn’t help but wonder who they might cast to play Tiny. My brain made connections between Tiny and the dark haired guy who was Kurt from Glee’s bully and tormenter. (Quick google search. Dave Karovsky is the character I’m talking about, played by actor Max Adler- thank you IMDB!) I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers, but you know, as a coming-of-age story, everyone grows a little and learns a little about themselves, etc. Nothing all that remarkable, but solid, enjoyable, and well-worthy of a read.
Looking for Alaska shows, once again, how adept Green is at creating characters who think and feel, with depth and layers, and does this through solid, well-crafted voice. This time the action centres on a boarding school, with a fairly intelligent but friendless new student, who quickly becomes part of a friendship group who broadens his world and challenges him. The central character has the unusual quality of having memorised the ‘last words’ of a range of historical people, and this weaves throughout his story, and shapes his view of those he meets and the way he interacts with them. It’s interesting, and a different way of thinking about the importance of the words we use, and when we use them. I got to thinking what you would have your last words be, if, of course, you had some choice in the matter. “Over and out” could be fun. Or “I have an important secret of treasure to share with you….” just to mess with those left behind a little. Probably I should think of something more poignant and important to say but, look, most people don’t really know which words will be their last anyway. And that’s a point this book makes nicely – you don’t know what the lasting impact of your life on those around you will be.
I enjoyed escaping into these two of Green’s created worlds, and have already sought out a copy of An Abundance of Katherines to be my next Green read. These books won’t change the world, but they might just have a tiny impact on yours, and if nothing else, they are a lovely way to escape into someone else’s mind for a while.