Friday, July 20, 2012

The Next John Hughes

Like some sad deviant version of Samuel Beckett's Vladimir, I’ve been waiting for -- eagerly anticipating the arrival of -- John Hughes. Not the one who died, God rest his soul, but The Next John Hughes, the person whose raison d'être is to pick up Hughes’ brilliant torch and pay it forward.

One filmmaker after another has aspired to be like Hughes, much like Mars Blackmon wanted to Be Like Mike (TM), but Mars was no Mike, and these filmmakers aren’t John Hughes.

Hughes wasn’t a directorial visionary. His plots were, as often as not, quite unimpressive. But he knew teenagers. He understood them on a deeper level. He saw what they were, what they thought they were, how clever they want to be, how smart they can’t help but be. Better, Hughes saw how dismissive adults can be, even when they’re trying to be attentive and respectful.

This week I realized I’ve been looking for John Hughes in the wrong places, because Hughes wasn’t first and foremost a filmmaker, but rather a writer. The Crown Prince of Hughesville is North Carolina-born, award-winning young adult author John Green.

I first encountered the 35-year-old author’s brilliance when I picked his debut, Looking for Alaska, as one of my two summer reading books back in my 30s. One of my advisees then introduced me that fall to his second book, An Abundance of Katherines. Years later, I have returned and am halfway through his fourth novel, The Fault In Our Stars, where his focus is attuned to the world of Teens With Cancer (if you read it, you’ll grow to appreciate Unnecessary Proper Nouns).

Whether the plots in Green’s books are all that great is up for healthy debate. What is not debatable, however, is how attuned and gifted Green is at capturing the essence of precocious, smarter-than-your-average-bear teenagers. He gets how they think. He gets how they think they think. And yes, there’s a difference, and it’s a vital difference if you are going to write kickass YA fiction, because you have to know how to incorporate both into your work.

Because I grew close to a Teen With Cancer and witnessed his world quake and erupt, and because I saw the impact his Noble Lost Fight With Cancer had on his family, his friends and myself, I knew reading this book would be difficult. I’m just past halfway, and I’ve bawled or aggressively sniffled no fewer than five times. But just sad tears; not despair tears.

Green gets teens. In fact, I fantasize about having the chance to meet him and ask him, ala the publishing company assistant from As Good As It Gets, “How do you write teens so well?” And I fantasize this would be Green’s answer:
I think of an adult. And then I remove the lump of coal from their ass and give them vibrant emotions instead of ones dulled from too much time in the sunlight.
Except Green’s real response would be, like, 20 times more clever and less wordy.

If you haven’t ever heard of Green and want to see the man behind the books (and his brother), check out their vlog correspondance, aka VlogBrothers. “Hitler and Sex” is just the tip of the iceberg, people.

John and Henry are also captains of a Ning called Nerdfighters. If you don't know what a Ning is, then you're probably not enough of a nerd to be interested in Nerdfighters. Then again, I didn't know until two years ago. Pretty sure I was a nerd prior to 2010.

John Green also has Crash Course, a brilliant combo of actual lessons with witty banter and South Park-y animation. No seriously, he is foolish enough to think learning could simultaneously be entertaining.

It took me a while, but I’m now full force 100% mega-enthusiastic about the nature in which John Green is attacking the universe with his education-friendly snark.

Superawesome, supernerdy. The new and improved and social-media-friendly John Hughes v2.0.


Daisy said...

I don't think I am quite ready for the Ning yet, but I did download the free esampler on kindle. Oddly I think I have read more ya lit in the last few years than I did when I was actually a young adult.

Sara C said...

Yeah, I love his writing, but it took discovering the vlogs to truly madly deeply get the beauty and genius that is John Green. Could I borrow TFIOS when you're finis?

Billy said...

@Daisy - I'm not sure "YA" was a category of fiction back then. I don't think anyone referred to "The Diary of Anne Frank" or "To Kill A Mockingbird" or "The Red Badge of Courage" as young adult literature. Thank God.

@Sara - I have it on my Kindle, however, my mother-in-law reviews YA books as a side hobby and has the hard copy, so she's gonna send it my way (in theory).