On Young Adult Fiction and Crying

One of my favorite genres to read is young adult fiction. It’s nostalgic and fun, and for some reason I’ve just never outgrown reading about first kisses. One of my favorite authors in this area of fiction is John Green, who is famous not only for his award-winning novels, but also for his youtube channel Vlogbrothers (which is awesome, by the way). Anyway, I’ve read three of five of Green’s books: Looking for Alaska, The Fault in Our Stars, and An Abundance of Katherines (listed here, in the order I read them, not the order in which they were published).

I’m going to avoid spoilers here as best I can and still talk about these three stories. I read Looking for Alaska, Green’s first novel, about two years ago, and then read The Fault in Our Stars (his newest), last year, and just finished Katherines a couple weeks ago. l love John Green, but if I could criticize him for one thing it would be that he often goes for what I call the “cheap” climax. John Green writes mostly tragic stories, and there’s no subtle way around it, because he doesn’t do it in a subtle way. He goes for the cheap cry, and at least using me as an example, he gets it.

The Fault in Our Stars is a story about teenagers who have terminal cancer and it houses the ever-horrific line “The only thing worse than being a kid with cancer is having a kid with cancer.” Every person alive will think this stuff is sad, and it is. It’s written well, it grabs you by your feelers, breaks your heart into pieces and then leaves you still with another 100 pages to read. But it’s cheap. It’s easy to make people cry about cancer.

There’s another book I love by another author, which I write about all the time because it’s my favorite book ever, and that is Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. Just to touch on it briefly here, that book is a tear-jerker for many people in many different places in the story. While some themes will probably tug at most everyone, there are other really subtle happenings that, if they make you sad, are much more personal and intimate. For example, the protagonist and high school freshman Charlie, befriends two seniors who graduate high school at the end of the story. That part of the book always makes me cry, because I remember what it’s like to say goodbye to people you know you won’t see again, and the general feeling that the world is going on without you. It’s not epic, it’s not a travesty, it’s just a quiet kind of heartbreak. And I love that.

Back to John Green for the conclusion here, An Abundance of Katherines is a different, and refreshing story. With the two gut-wrenchers under by belt, I opened up Katherines prepared for the worst. I won’t spoil the story, but I will say that it’s very simple, and nothing epic happens. And in that, there’s a simple beauty: storytellers pull for grand climaxes and shocking endings, but when they forget about them and let a story be simple, they magnify our day-to-days. There is a grandness in the one-year journey of a recent high school grad, even if he doesn’t have cancer and his friends aren’t dying. It’s lovely, and it’s just life.


One thought on “On Young Adult Fiction and Crying

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