Happy 44th Birthday, John Green!
John Green is an award winning author/coauthor of 8 books, as well as a YouTube vlogger, podcaster, and speaker. His debut novel, Looking for Alaska (2005), was awarded the 2006 Michael L. Printz award, and was later adapted into a television series by Hulu in 2019. The Fault in Our Stars (2012) was made into a movie in 2014; Paper Towns (2008) was awarded the 2009 Edgar Award; Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances (2008), on which he collaborated with YA authors Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle, was adapted into a movie by Netflix in 2019.
Green was born on August 24, 1977 in Indianapolis, Indiana. His family moved frequently, to Michigan, Alabama, and finally settling in Orlando, Florida. He attended Indian Springs School near Birmingham, the boarding school on which he based Culver Creek Preparatory High School, his setting for Looking for Alaska. In 2000, he graduated from Kenyon College with a double major in English and Religious Studies. In the years after his graduation, he moved to Chicago and reviewed books for Booklist and The New York Times, as well as worked for NPR and Chicago’s public radio. During this time, he also wrote his first novel, Looking for Alaska.
I first encountered Green’s books after I took a course on children’s literature in graduate school in 2012. One of the final sections of the class featured banned and challenged books, and I selected Looking for Alaska, not knowing anything about Green or his books. I really enjoyed the novel, and though I hadn’t attended a boarding school like Miles and Alaska, felt a sense of understanding at Miles’ awkward and anxious high school experiences. I recall reading it and thinking, Okay, so what’s wrong with it?! (I hadn’t yet experienced book challenges for seemingly benign reasons.)
I looked into it and was surprised to see that this YA book had received a number of challenges since its publication, the most notable being in 2016 in Marion County, Kentucky. The book was included in the 12th grade English curriculum, and a parent complained, saying the book would cause students “to experiment with pornography, sex, drugs, alcohol and profanity”. The complaint referenced a scene in the book which described two characters exploring with oral sex for the first time. Additionally, there were further complaints about cursing on the page. The book was removed from the shelves until a committee could come to a decision. Ultimately, it was decided to retain the book. The community rallied to support both the book and the teacher who had selected it, Emily Veatch. Even Green got involved, posting a video on YouTube to show his support for everyone working to keep his novel in the classroom.
“I did not choose Looking for Alaska because I wished to expose my students to inappropriate material. I chose an award winning novel that I knew would engage and inspire my students. As a teacher of seniors, it is my job to prepare my students to enter the real world very soon; giving them a novel that will help that transition was my goal. In three short weeks they will be thrust into the real world. The time for permission slips will be over.”Emily Veatch, in a written statement to the school district review committee
I find it interesting, and frankly a little frustrating, when parents attempt to ban a book because of sex, drugs, cursing, death, and other themes that they consider too much for teenagers to handle. If they haven’t already experienced discussion of or participation in these issues already in high school, they certainly will in college. Curbing their exposure due to concerns about innocence, temptation to further experiment, or religious issues, is not going to prevent teenagers from encountering these same issues in the adult world. Reading books like Looking for Alaska, where sex and death are dealt with in a realistic and compassionate way, allows students to ask questions and process emotions in an environment with an empathetic and thoughtful adult.
Thank you to John Green, for writing books that deal with hard things in a thoughtful and nuanced way. Your books are a gift to teenagers (and adults!) everywhere.
Rebecca holds an MLIS from the University of North Texas and is a former teacher and school library consultant. Though not currently working in a library, she continues to fight against censorship and advocate for intellectual freedom rights, especially for children’s literature. When she’s not wrangling her three children, Rebecca enjoys reading, running, writing, and roaming the world.