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Beyond "Green" Lit: Books for Fans of John Green

by Molly Wetta

*This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Kids & Books.*

To those who aren't immersed in the culture of young adult literature, John Green's books, even his name, are synonymous with realistic fiction written for a teen audience. For casual readers who are interested in checking out the books everyone is talking about and aren't necessarily looking to read YA, a John Green book might be their first experience reading modern teen literature. The Fault in Our Stars serves as a gateway to contemporary young adult novels for many people, no matter what their age. Because of John Green's success and his devoted following, the media has taken to using his work as the standard to which realistic teen fiction is judged against.

So what are journalists and marketers really saying when they claim a book is "for fans of John Green"? 

Teens and adults alike are drawn to John Green's earnest portrayal of the angst of young love. Readers connect with his self-aware characters and enjoy their witty dialogue. They appreciate his emotionally intense stories with their bittersweet endings. With their judicious sprinkling of pop culture references and ever-quotable lines, his books have created a subculture that celebrates nerdiness.

"So what are journalists and marketers really saying when they claim a book is "for fans of John Green?"

Whether readers are discovering the category for the first time or are avid readers of YA, there's no shortage of titles to recommend to fans of John Green, whether they are looking for stories bursting with clever aphorisms or tales of seemingly unrequited -- yet almost realized -- young love. These novels are matched to various configurations of the many appeal factors of John Green's books.

Pop Culture + Irony + Doomed Love

Robyn Schneider's The Beginning of Everything contains many elements that will appeal to fans of John Green.  Readers will delight in the references to geek culture (Doctor Who!) and popular music (Vampire Weekend!). As in Green's Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska, this plot revolves around a boy pining for an impossibly sophisticated and unattainable girl.

Highly Quotable + Heartache + Happy Ending

Readers will find many elegant and profound quotes to feature in fan art inspired by Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Aliré Saenz. (Consider "I could be something and nothing at the same time. I could be necessary and also invisible. Everyone would need me and no one would be able to see me," or "Words were different when they lived inside of you.") These sentences would look just as nice on a T-shirt as the popular quotes from The Fault in Our Stars.

But the appeal doesn't end there; Ari and Dante are smart, articulate teens like the protagonists of John Green's novels, and the story is as much about finding the secrets of your own soul as the complications of young love.

(Endearingly) Raunchy Moments + Boarding School + Gut-wrenching Plot Twist

Like Miles, the narrator of Looking for Alaska, Ryan Dean, the protagonist of Andrew Smith's Winger, is often preoccupied with thoughts of sex and rather self-deprecating. Both books also share a boarding school setting. Yet it's the plot twist at the end of both novels that really invites comparison between the novels. Readers who aren't spoiled for the ending of both books will feel like they've been punched in the gut by the tragic circumstances that befall the characters in both stories.

Not Another Cancer Book

On the surface, The Fault in Our Stars is about two young people who know their lives will be cut short, yet still make time for adventure and love. Julie Murphy's Side Effects May Vary is about a girl who decides to right wrongs -- and exact revenge -- when faced with the possibility of succumbing to the fatal disease. But neither are "cancer books"; they are both about life and love.

For another witty and romantic book that features a main character dealing with cancer, readers should check out The Probability of Miracles by Wendy Wunder. If crass humor and a self-deprecating narrator are more to taste, Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews is another "cancer book" that fits the bill.

Missing Persons + Profound Thoughts

It's easy to picture Cullen from Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley hanging out with John Green's protagonists. Like Q, Colin, Miles, and both Will Graysons, Cullen is smart and self-aware. Like John Green's stories, Where Things Comes Back juxtaposes the minutiae of everyday life as a teen with higher-level musings on the world.

Emotionally Intense + Bittersweet

If readers really want an emotional roller coaster ride and eloquent writing, the more contemplative, and introspective romances with plenty of family drama, Where the Stars Still Shine by Trish Doller or The Book of Broken Hearts by Sarah Ockler would be a good fit.

Unexpected + Under the Radar

Just because the synopsis doesn't immediately jump out as a novel in the vein of John Green, or it doesn't hit every one of the appeal factors of his work, doesn't mean a book won't be a hit with his fans. These books aren't obvious choices, but certain aspects will resonate with avid Green fans.

For dark, sarcastic humor, readers should check out The 39 Deaths of Adam Strand by Gregory Galloway. Though it has an element of surrealism -- Adam has successfully committed suicide 39 times, only to wake up alive in his bed again later -- the banter among his friends, and his unexpected friendships with a police dispatcher and a gifted young girl ground the book in reality.

For those who like an air of mystery in their boarding school dramas, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan will please. It also features an unattainable girl.


New Releases + Old Favorites

For readers who devour young adult fiction and are dedicated Nerdfighters, these forthcoming 2014 releases will satisfy their cravings. Guy in Real Life by Steve Brezenoff has the ultimate geek appeal: role-playing games, both tabletop and online. Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern is about finding love in unexpected places. The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy by Kate Hattemer is as amusing as it is angsty, with a side of Ezra Pound. Other go-to authors for fans of John Green include A.S. King, Matthew Quick, and Rainbow Rowell.

The trademark blend of pathos and wry humor unique to John Green's novels is not duplicated in these titles, but each offers its own distinct voice and story. Yet every John Green fan will find a new favorite among these young adult novels. When it comes to poignant and moving realistic young adult fiction that is fun yet thought-provoking, John Green certainly isn't the only game in town; his books are in great company. 

Can't get enough John Green?

Don't miss NoveList's latest YouTube video: A NoveList Readers' Advisory-fest, John Green Style. Pump yourself up for TFioS movie release and get awesome reading recommendations for summer, brought to you by NoveList's own Nerdfighters. 

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Molly Wetta is the YA and Media Selector at Lawrence Public Library in Lawrence, KS, where she wrangles a teen book club and manages the library's Tumblr. She also contributes to YALSA's young adult literature blog, The Hub.