You will need:
1. a male protagonist with a quirk.
2. a manic-pixie-dream-girl love interest who is ‘damaged’ and that the protagonist can use to find/fix himself.
3. one polar-opposite best friend and, optionally, one obnoxious best friend.
4. a setting that is based in reality, but somehow feels ethereal.
5. one hella good road trip.
Optionally you can add a missing girl (see 2.) into the equation.
It’s to be expected that any author is going to have some patterns in their writing style, and it’s particularly easy to spot them when their collected works so far and just the one genre. As a disclaimer, I am in no way trying to dissuade any one to not read or not enjoy John Green’s novels! They’re pretty wonderful, and Paper Towns is even on my favourites list, but just because I like the author doesn’t mean their writing is perfect. Despite whatever I say in this post I will not stop reading and enjoying Green’s works, and I look forward to whatever he publishes in the future. So be warned.
John Green is such a prominent author on any book shelf, be it library, supermarket or personal, that it’s become hard to criticise his work. This is partly due to the fact that he is also such a prominent member of the internet community, which makes him feel like a friend, or at least someone that we know a little more than the average author, and you wouldn’t criticise a friend, would you?
There’s no disputing the fact that ‘The John Green Formula’ (I will hereby refer to it as the TJGF) is a bestselling formula. The TJGF gives readers carefully developed characters and intricate love stories, not to mention they’re fun to read – I can not stress this enough. As much as a I enjoy the TJGF (which, I guess, technically makes it The The John Green Formula, but ‘The TJGF’ sounds better, so we’ll roll with it) I also find it a little frustrating.
I’m writing about the TJGF in my EPQ project about the way in which the first love is presented in YA and how it relates to character development, and it got me thinking more about the frequently occurring tropes in YA. The Manic-Pixie-Dream-Girl being one of them, I’m not entirely sure where this came from, and it would be ignorant to say it must have started with the TJGF, but that seems to be where it’s most commonly recognised. Lauren DeStefano, author of the Chemical Garden trilogy, wrote a piece on the MPDG (I’m really going for the initialisms) and you can read it here. Her main point is that the MPDG trope objectifies women, and I can totally see where she’s coming from. (See 2.)
The MPDG trope is just as problematic as the ‘damsel in distress, need a boy to save me’ trope (the DIDNABTSM?) and this leads to questioning the representation of women in YA – and you can see how this controversy has spiralled out of just talking about the patterns in bestselling John Green novels. It brings on a whole feminist debate and issues about consent in YA literature – and let me tell you, they definitely should be discussed. I could go on and write a dissertation on the problematic tropes of the YA genre, but I’ll leave you with what I’ve got, slightly abruptly if anything, so that we can take some time to think about this stuff.
It’s almost strange to look at YA in such a critical light, as I normally think about YA as something I can read to take a break from the books on my English Literature course. But they’re so much more than that, the content and issues are just as serious as the ones in what are regarded as ‘the classics’.
Thanks for reading! It’s been a wild ride, and all I can say is ‘that escalated quickly.’