I love John Green. I make no apologies for this fact and do not hide it from anyone. Not only do I think the guy is a pretty fantastic author, I also LOVE his Crash Course Literature series (and I’m pretty keen on his Crash Course histories too). On top of that, I love the vlog Brothers AND I simply adore all the work John Green does to take very complex topics and make them easier for teenagers to understand.
Most of all, I LOVE that John Green has written six phenomenal books that have helped me truly connect to my students and have brought immense joy (and more than a few tears) to my life.
The Fault in Our Stars was the first book by Green I read. I read it not long after it came out and, coincidentally, not long after I lost my father to cancer. I knew the book was about a teenage girl struggling with cancer, but somehow I didn’t really connect my own experience to it. It wasn’t until I found myself sitting at my son’s taekwando lesson, reading about “the last good day,” that I really just lost it. Despite being in a dojo surrounded by people I did not know, Green’s words struck a powerful chord with me and I sobbed. His description of “the last good day,” broke my heart because just like Green says in the novel, you don’t know it’s the last good day until well after it’s over. And you don’t appreciate it at the time the same way you do in hindsight.
From that moment, I was hooked. I spent the next few weeks reading all of his other books, even though TFiOS remains my favorite. After I finished his books, I turned to everything else John Green and got to know so much more about him and his brother Hank. With the help of some of my students, I learned all about Nerdfighters. My search also led me to some other great books including This Star Won’t Go Out and Behind the Beautiful Forevers. My searches led me to attend The Night Before Our Stars (the early movie premiere) and A Night on the Town (the early movie premiere).
More recently, my love of John Green led me to buy tickets for his Turtles All the Way Down book tour. Since Green and I share a home town, I’ve tried to attend a few other speaking engagements he’s had locally, but I’ve never managed to get tickets–usually because they’ve been held at venues with first come, first serve tickets and I could not take a day off of work AND find a place for my kids to go while I waited for hours outside a speaking venue. But this time the venue was only 10 minutes from my house and on a weeknight during fall break. Plus, the ticket came with an autographed copy of the book. It was a must have.
John and Hank Green put on quite a show. I found myself laughing out loud more times than I could count. Sometimes I wasn’t even quite sure why it was so funny. For example, after John’s initial welcome and reading from the novel, he introduced Professor Lawrence Turtleman who came out and gave a Power Point presentation on taxonomy and phylogeny. While I had no idea why this was going on (I hadn’t read the book yet), the fact that Hank Green came out in a ridiculous turtle costume and made a very passable attempt at a biology lecture was hysterical. Everything about his energy and his commitment to the bit (which he tried to claim wasn’t a bit) was wonderful. When John came out at the end and could barely contain his own laughter as he mentioned how much he loves that portion of the show (and how much his kids, who were in the audience) also love it, it was great.
As part of the show, Hank and John did an impromptu vlog brothers bit, which again nearly had me rolling on the floor at times. Their energy is amazing. I loved Hank’s cheery, if slightly creepy optimism mixed with John’s hopeful cynicism. They are amazing compliments to each other. When they answered multiple questions from middle school teachers and started deciding about their placement in the afterlife, well, it was golden.
I also loved when John answered Indianapolis specific questions. I won’t lie, it’s pretty cool reading books set in my home town. It’s even cooler that a few very big landmarks in both TFiOS and TAtWD take place right by my house. I especially loved that when asked why anyone would have to jump on 465 (the circular highway that runs around the entire city) to get to 86th and Ditch, he admitted that he totally fudged the geography of the city to help create his metaphor. It was pretty funny as he knew we’d be the only city to grill him on those details.
What amazed me most about the show Hank and John put on was not just how funny it was. Spend 5 minutes watching any of their videos or John’s Crash Course videos and you’ll know he’s quite funny. No, what amazed me is how easily he used humor to transition into some pretty serious subjects. Since his book deals with a teenager who is struggling with mental illness, a lot of what he talked about dealt not just with his character’s metal illness, but with his own struggles. He talked openly and very personally about just how debilitating his mental illness has been in his life. It was easy to tell that he deeply connected to his character of Aza.
One of my favorite moments was when a professor at a local university asked him what questions about mental illness he would want her students to delve into. His response was not so much questions for them to explore, but rather he wanted to know if he’d done a good enough job trying to use words, which are so inadequate, to describe Aza’s pain. He then went on to talk about how words fail us in moments of true pain because language cannot truly describe physical or psychic pain. Deep pain is better expressed in screams, groans and grunts because there are no words because we cannot really share that pain.
If all of this wasn’t enough, I also greatly enjoyed the singing. Yes, that’s right, this was also a musical extravaganza. Hank played a few of his songs for us. Then, he broke into a version of “All Star” and the entire audience joined in, complete with cellphones in the air and swaying. John had us sing a touching tribute to a friend of his (which also appears in the book). We finished off with two songs that I thought were truly great. One was the strangest version of “Sweet Carolina” I’ve ever participated in, but which truly created a unique, shared experience for everyone in the audience (and made John do a fantastic happy dance across the stage). We finished off the night with “This Year” by The Mountain Goats which both Hank and John sang and encouraged us to join in on. If you’ve never listened to it, I highly recommend it. It’s a great song and perfect for his new book.
And best of all, I got this.