Confessions of the Clueless, Part III: If John Green’s Clueless Enough to Write About Articulate Teenagers, So Am I, Thanks

Raise your hand if you

  • have read (or seen) John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars
  • are, or once were, an intelligent, articulate, even eloquent teenager
  • have read John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines
  • are the parent of someone who was formerly an intelligent, articulate, even eloquent teenager
  • have read John Green’s Looking for Alaska
  • believe that teenagers have as much capacity for intelligence, articulateness, even eloquence as adults (and way more than several recent Presidents)
  • are excited about John Green’s latest novel, Turtles All the Way Down.

Me? My hand never went down.

Thinking about the critiques my own books have faced–“Your heroine thinks and talks too much like an adult!”–I’ve found happy solace in this article by Jennie Yabroff of Signature Reads. com, which details John Green’s patient resistance to dumbing-down his teenage protagonists. Here he explains that his characters simply narrate not the way society expects of teens, but the way these teens, these PEOPLE, see themselves:

“The reality of experience is ultimately a lot more interesting to me than what I think is sort of wrongly called ‘objective reality.’ Because I don’t actually think objective reality is a thing — certainly not a very interesting thing for fiction, I don’t think,” he said. Rather, he believes that the way he represents his characters on the page is the way they see themselves in their heads. “Certainly, teenagers don’t sound [like my characters] when they talk to us… But they do sound that way to themselves. And that’s what interests me. I’m not really interested in capturing how they actually sound, because that’s not their experience.”

I say AMEN. Or rather, my protagonist, Jocelyn Burgowski, says that. Even though “that’s not something a teen would say.” Jocelyn is trying, like every other teen, to figure out exactly who she is. Her voice is the voice of the self developing inside her–which we, the readers, are privileged to peek into. So who are we to demand a different voice on the page?

(Orig. photo courtesy high school-aged Brian Whittier)

I prefer to get my books from the library or in paperback from my local bookstore, so I won’t get to read Turtles All the Way Down very soon. But if you do–and I hope you do!–please listen hard, and hear what Green’s heroine Aza has to say. Then apply that listening to the teen nearest you.

Coming in November, Altitude: Final Book of the Flying Burgowski Trilogy

(Design by Bob Lanphear; hands photo by Heather Harrison; hands themselves: Anah-Kate Drahn) Thanks, all!

“To thine own self be true…” Yeah, right.

I banked toward the warehouses, skimming the trees. Gotta find some way to USE my power…Reaching the first ratty rooftop, I hovered, quivering. If I could get Vivian back to the sky… put our powers together—What’s THAT?

Not a seagull. This sound was coming from the alley below. A quiet wail—kittens crying. Was that rusty blue shipping container there before? I landed behind the gnarliest warehouse and peeked into the alley. From street level, the giant rusty container towered above me. The kitten-cries were definitely coming from inside. Maybe someone dumped a pregnant cat in there. The box was hinged at one end—a pair of doors belted with a big ol’ rusty chain and padlock. Why lock a cat in?

 “Kitty-kitty-kitty?” I called. “You in there? Poor thing!”

Two syllables floated from the stinking metal monster. A word I recognized from my Mandarin Terms a Traveler Should Know: “Bāng wǒ.” Help.

After a summer of betrayal and heartbreak and an epically rotten year, 16 year-old Jocelyn (The Flying) Burgowski is fleeing family and friends on Dalby Island for school on the mainland. What good is flying if it wrecks relationships? The guy she fell for almost destroyed her power. Now, discovering the ugly underbelly of mainland life, has Joss stumbled upon a fellow Flyer—only to bring her down? Confronting the dual forces of magic and maturity, Joss must face the question: what does “to thine own self be true” really mean?

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PS–check out my Goodreads page to win a free copy of The Flying Burgowski or Headwinds, Oct. 10-Nov. 11

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