John Green

Photo Credit: Victoria Smith | Daily Texan Staff

After sending audiences through a whirlwind of emotions with his 2011 romantic tragedy “The Fault In Our Stars,” John Green has returned with his typical poetic descriptions and sarcastic tones in the emotional drama “Turtles All The Way Down.” 

In his newest teen novel, Green breaks down the stigma surrounding discussions of mental health and obsessive-compulsive disorder through his main character, Aza Holmes. 

Throughout the story, Holmes is seen chasing a billionaire fugitive, who happens to be her neighbor and the father of her childhood friend, in exchange for a $100,000 reward. As she chases the truth and the money with best friend and Star Wars fan fiction author Daisy Ramirez, she finds herself rekindling past feelings for long-lost friend, Davis Pickett. Meanwhile, Pickett, a rich teenage poet, is dealing with mixed emotions about his father’s disappearance, his newfound guardianship over his younger brother and a soon-to-be-rich lizard.

The story, however, takes a backseat in Green’s book, as he primarily focuses on Holmes’ inner struggle with acute anxiety and severe OCD fixation on microbial diseases. 

With thought-provoking, occasionally lengthy narratives of Aza’s “invasives,” or recurring anxious thoughts, Green has managed to put into words the unheard struggles of OCD and the rapidly tightening spirals felt by victims of anxiety attacks. The influence of Green’s personal mental health battle on his character’s fight with this illness creates a clear, accurate and personal account of the experience. This makes the read very emotionally difficult and forms a real picture of mental health matters to which readers can relate.

Throughout “Turtles,” Green tells the story through some of his familiar teen characters: a young, considerably sarcastic female, and a best friend that is easy to love and hate simultaneously. Meanwhile, an inner battle to find one’s self and place that is more philosophical than that found in most young adult novels takes place, presented through deep but easy to understand poetic metaphors. Additionally, it features Green’s trademark romantic themes, lyrical and alluding to the stars, while also acting as Green’s first crime fiction. Although both themes are thoroughly developed, the overlying and obvious main idea is Aza’s daily battle with her intrusive thoughts. 

Meanwhile, beyond the darker thematics and tear-provoking anxiety attacks, the story remains emotionally manageable as Green take audiences on a journey through the busy streets of Indianapolis, coupon-paid dinners at Applebee’s and a constant search through the confusing clues left behind by the missing billionaire. 

Green also provides continuous comedic relief with Daisy, Aza’s partner-in-crime, who spends her days writing Rey and Chewbacca fan fiction while pushing Aza to the limits of her comfort zone. Green keeps readers sighing through the chapters with the deeply poetic quotes and comments from Davis, the humble and understanding love interest. 

“Turtles All the Way Down” is Green’s conquering of the stigmatized mental health genre that might have been considered too personal in more conservative days, but is now both comforting and necessary. It not only shows readers that they are not alone, but also brings with it a new age of acceptance.

Esther Earl is the girl many think inspired the main character in John Green’s award-winning novel “The Fault in Our Stars.” Her life as a teenage girl who battled thyroid cancer is now memorialized in “This Star Won’t go Out.” 

Photo Credit: Photo courtesy of Yoon S. Byun for The Boston Globe. | Daily Texan Staff

On Thanksgiving Day 2009, 12-year-old Esther Earl was diagnosed with thyroid cancer after experiencing abnormal chest pain and fatigue. Today, her short but powerful story is a 400-plus page manifestation of the fullness even the shortest lives can have.  

“This Star Won’t Go Out” chronicles the life of Earl, whom many believe was the inspiration for John Green’s best selling novel “The Fault in Our Stars.” The book starts out with an introduction by Green, Earl’s favorite author and close friend. While he claims that his novel is only dedicated to Earl — not based on her — there are many similarities between the two, including that they both use an oxygen tank, have pixie haircuts, thyroid cancer and a deep love for literature.

Speculation aside, the book is not about Green, “The Fault in Our Stars” or even cancer. It’s about Earl.

The novel is Earl’s posthumously published work made up of a compilation of her journal entries, message-board conversations and drawings. In addition to her own work, there is input from friends, family and Earl’s parents, Lori and Wayne, who were the main force behind compiling her writings and getting them published.

Earl’s passion for storytelling grew at a young age, and, accordingly, she spent a lot of her time in her early childhood reading and writing diary entries and stories.

From the beginning, her voice is loud and clearly spoken. The book opens with a quote from Earl: “This is a story about a girl that went through this life changing experience known as Thyroid Cancer. It’s not one of those dramatic ‘based on a true story’ cancer things … It’s a story about me, Esther Earl, having a sickness that’s pretty scary.”

Although Earl, who would be turning 20 this year, died in 2010, this publication ensures her presence among literature. Her parents also created the nonprofit “This Star Won’t Go Out” in dedication of Earl to raise money for families in need.

The book goes through the timeline of Earl’s life before, during and after cancer. It tracks her childhood and the family while they lived in various cities where Earl first discovered she had fluid in her lungs and thyroid cancer, which is rare among the young. From there, the dates on Earl’s journal entries, messages to family and friends and photos guide the story along.

Included among Earl’s writings are pieces by her closest friends and their conversations together as a part of a collaborative group called Catitude. Catitude was created by Earl and her friends as a “nerdfighter” group, which are fans of John and Hank Green’s vlog series and who support all things nerd-tastic. The messages show the group connecting on nonserious topics, such as Harry Potter and games. But they also expose the love and support they have toward one another on more serious topics through the time Earl revealed her disease to them. Although Catitude members lived all across the U.S., they gathered for the first time in real life for Earl’s Make-A-Wish request.

Unlike many people we read about who have passed away who leave many unanswered questions, Earl’s journal entries open her mind as a free place to peek and prod. Her deepest passions and thoughts are revealed through the text, and the reader can see her handwriting, scribbles and doodles as even more proof that she lived. From her prayers to God to her teenage hopes of having her first kiss, Earl is not an idea of a person wrapped up in a disease; she is relatable, full and real. In many parts of the book you lose sight of the illness completely and understand that this book really isn’t a story about cancer, it’s about life with all the sickness and messiness and friendship in between.

Young-adult author Jessica Lee Anderson is an Austin resident and says the Texas Book Festival as well as numerous local bookstores have made Austin a hotbed for young-adult authors. Anderson and other authors like her are trying to broaden the appeal of the genre to other demographics.

Photo Credit: Nathan Goldsmith | Daily Texan Staff

With entire sections of book stores such as Barnes & Noble dedicated exclusively to the next big teen paranormal romance, many critics and readers alike have come to criticize the genre as having grown obsolete and shallow. However, alongside recent young adult novels that challenge these negative stereotypes in an ever-changing genre, modern publishing and marketing methods are gradually changing the perceptions of these works on both a local and general level.

Rather than marketing such novels exclusively to teens and tweens, a demographic into which publishers have often tried to condense the genre, many modern-day YA novels (such as Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games” and John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars”) are expanding upon readers’ ideas of YA literature and proving that these novels are relevant to a larger audience.

Green has recently become one of the most prominent figures in the YA lit scene, notable for both his critically-acclaimed novels and frequent interaction with his readers through social media sites such as Tumblr and Twitter. In a Q-and-A session about “The Fault in Our Stars" on Green's blog, published this past January, Green was asked how he was able to incorporate so much meaning in a novel aimed towards young adults, with themes such as the inevitability of mortality (and the subsequent embracing of it), experiencing love in all forms and a general element of catharsis.

In response, Green simply refuted the idea that novels aimed towards younger audiences have to be dumbed down or over-simplified to achieve success.

“Teenagers are plenty smart. I don’t sit around and worry whether teenagers are smart,” Green said. “I mean, most of the people currently reading ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’ ... are teenagers.”

Linguistics freshman Gabby Sepulveda agrees with Green’s sentiment, contesting the notion that the young adult genre has reached a decline in intellectual credibility. For Sepulveda, the hardships present in not only YA literature, but fiction as a whole, urge readers to approach real-life difficulties with a greater sense of clarity.

“‘Harry Potter’ brought together thousands of people — not because of a boy who waved his wand, but because that boy overcame adversity and showed the power of love,” Sepulveda said. “And ‘The Hunger Games’ allowed people to think about the flaws of humanity, to truly feel the sadness that can be caused by our own human cruelty.”

Jessica Lee Anderson, a local young adult writer who has published novels such as “Calli” and “Border Crossing,” considers Austin a thriving scene for authors of the genre, with the Texas Book Festival and local bookstores such as BookPeople providing numerous resources for up-and-coming authors.

“Young adult literature is more like a category than a genre — the books are diverse and span the quality gamut just like the adult market,” Anderson said. “The YA lit category is continuing to grow and push boundaries in all areas.”

One evolution in particular that Anderson has noticed is the trend of e-books outselling their physical counterparts. Alongside the practice of self-publishing, which has proved successful for fellow local YA author P.J. Hoover, she believes this trend will continue alongside other shifts in publishing models.

According to a HarperCollins study published in the New York Times, young adult e-book sales rose from making up 6 percent of digital sales to 20 percent in 2011, and as the younger generation continues to embrace E-reading devices such as the Kindle and Nook, this figure is expected to increase.

“I think the nature of e-books will become more interactive, connecting readers together and making the authors more accessible,” Anderson said. “Even if the manner in which we read drastically changes, I believe young adult lit has a healthy future.”

Audrey Auden, a California-based science-fiction writer and self-published author of “Realms Unreel,” took advantage of many such emerging opportunities, enrolling in Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Select program, which allowed for the digital version of her novel to be free for readers for five days out of every 90-day period of enrollment.

Alongside this program, Auden has also implemented various social media sites such as Reddit, Facebook and Authonomy to promote her novel, and created a Kickstarter page to acquire pledges to fund an illustrated hardcover version of “Realms Unreel.”

When it comes to self-publishing, Auden also hopes that authors will continue to take advantage of these modern methods of reaching audiences.

“[I hope that] readers will be empowered to discover and popularize books that don’t fit into the genre molds that have been set up out of necessity by a publishing industry that needed ways to categorize work for the purpose of marketing it,” Auden said.

Auden also believes that the nature of books may come to fundamentally change in regards to the intersection of longer narrative works and more casual online writing, such as blogging, wikis and interactive Web media.

On a university level, student organizations such as the UT chapter of the Harry Potter Alliance offer ways for students to engage in and discuss events relevant to the YA literature scene.

For Plan II Honors and English junior Abigail Ryan, the genre is as prosperous as ever in captivating readers.

“I think the YA genre is wonderful, especially now that we are seeing more and more authors, like John Green and [YA author] Maureen Johnson, who acknowledge that their audience is much smarter than people give them credit for,” said Ryan. “It used to be that YA novels were the bridge between children’s chapter books and adult fiction, but now I am seeing more and more people acknowledge them for what they are — coming-of-age novels that are both enjoyable and informative.”

Young adult author and YouTube star John Green has done it again. Like his previous award-winning novels for teens, including “Looking For Alaska” and “Paper Towns,” Green's latest novel, “The Fault in Our Stars,” pulls at heartstrings with his signature blend of humor, poignancy and heartbreak.

Narrator Hazel is a 16-year-old girl who miraculously survives thyroid cancer. Although her tumor shrank due to an experimental cure, Hazel must carry an oxygen tank with her for the rest of her life. One day, Hazel arrives at the “Cancer Kid” support group she grudgingly attends and meets Augustus “Gus” Waters, a 17-year-old with a prosthetic leg lost to cancer. Instant chemistry sparks between the two.

The intelligent, sarcastic teens bond over films, their cancerous lives and Hazel's favorite novel, “An Imperial Affliction,” the fictional novel within Greens novel by reclusive Dutch-American author Peter Van Houten. Hazel connects deeply with the novel, which is about a girl with cancer, like herself. It's Hazel's greatest desire to know more about the characters' fates, since the novel ended with the character succumbing to cancer.

Although the plot of “The Fault in Our Stars,” the title of which is an allusion to Shakespeare's “Julius Caesar,” is elegantly witty and tearjerking, the pace lags in earlier chapters. It takes time for Hazel and Gus to go to Amsterdam and get their answers from Peter Van Houten, which propels the novel into its sweetly tragic final act.

Green provides iconic quirky humor in his razor-sharp and brutally honest characters and their compelling banter. Hazel and Gus' relationship is a sweetly crafted slow burn, based on romantic gestures and meaningful conversations about fearing oblivion and acknowledging existentialism.

Readers will easily feel close to Hazel and Gus every step of the way, cheering them on and hoping for the best. It's easy to see why John Green remains one of the most beloved, celebrated authors of the modern young adult genre.

Printed on Monday, January 30, 2012 as: Sick teens struggle to discover answers

A district judge will decide if the Texas death penalty statute is constitutional for the first time in the state’s history in a hearing scheduled for Monday.

Harris County Judge Kevin Fine will oversee the case of defendant John Green, who faces capital murder charges following a 2008 shooting of a woman during a robbery. Harris County prosecutors asked for a death sentence, which led to the hearing.

Texas v. Green will examine risk factors that can occur during a capital murder case which could lead to wrongful executions — including faulty eyewitness testimony and a lower quality of lawyering — and the state’s method of fixing the systemic problems.

Andrea Keilen, executive director of Texas Defender Service, said Texas lacks the safeguarding procedures in execution cases used in many other states.

“The Texas system is so deficient — from top to bottom — in terms of its ability to protect innocent people from conviction and execution,” Keilen said. “And once the system makes a mistake, it is totally inadequate and unable to fix the mistake. Those exonerations happen out of a combination of luck and the involvement of people outside of the death penalty system.”

According to Death Penalty Information Center statistics, 12 of the 139 death row prisoners exonerated in the last 35 years were in Texas.

Fine declared the death penalty unconstitutional in March during earlier litigation of the trial. He retracted his statement after public criticism but acknowledged innocent people have been executed in Texas. Following the judge’s statement, the Harris County district attorney’s office filed a motion for Fine to remove himself from the case. A state appeals court denied the motion because Fine had not yet made a decision.

Prosecutors responded by filing a writ to stop the hearing two weeks ago, but all nine members of the state Criminal Court of Appeals, the state’s highest criminal court, denied the motion. The prosecutors are trying to avoid having a hearing in which the truth about the death penalty is put into evidence, Keilen said.

“That says something in and of itself,” she said. “The prosecutors don’t want the public to realize how unreliable the system is because support for the death penalty would decrease.”

The Harris County district attorney’s office declined to comment on the upcoming hearing.
Green’s defense attorney Robert Loper said he is glad they have a chance for a hearing.

“If they were to uphold it, I think that would be the end of the death penalty in Texas,” he said.