A titan of American YA fiction, John Green burst onto the teen lit scene with his bestselling debut Looking for Alaska in 2005. Throughout his award-winning followups – including 2006’s An Abundance of Katherines, 2008’s Paper Towns, and 2012’s The Fault in Our Stars – Green has amassed a dedicated fan base for broadening the expanse of young adult novels. His books have been adapted into two hit films and published in more than 55 languages, with over 24 million copies in print.
Exploring the messy multitudes of teenage life, Green’s work tackles themes of grief, guilt, identity, and the meaning of life with humor and compassion. His stories often take a philosophical approach to emotional and intellectual development, proving that hope can persevere where there’s no happy ending.
Aside from being a novelist, Green is also an avid online content creator who’s published numerous educational videos and organizes YouTube’s popular annual conference VidCon. As a podcaster, he co-hosts the weekly comedy series Dear Hank & John with his brother, along with the essay podcast The Anthropocene Reviewed, which was adapted last year into a book of the same name.
Sharing his all-time favorite coming-of-age books with The Week, Green included classics by Toni Morrison, David Foster Wallace, and Laurie Halse Anderson that, like his own work, deal with darker themes not traditionally depicted in the genre. Explore his reading list below, and complement with the bookshelves of Judy Blume and Nicholas Sparks.
Sula by Toni Morrison
“Morrison won the Nobel Prize in literature the same year that I read Song of Solomon in a high school English class. I loved that novel so much I read Sula (and Beloved) for fun that summer. The friendship between Sula and Nel transformed the way I thought about love and gender.” -JG
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
“Frankie is a boarding-school novel, with all the pranks and romantic entanglements you’d expect. But it also features a wonderful protagonist. Her examinations of self, authority, and gender roles make this book truly brilliant.” -JG
“I read Infinite Jest in college. Its portrayal of a highly competitive, academically rigorous tennis academy fascinated me, but what I loved most was the novel’s deep understanding of adolescent depression and anxiety. Infinite Jest is also about much else, of course – technology, global politics, addiction – but it’s one of the best coming-of-age stories I’ve ever read.” -JG
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
“Anderson’s classic young-adult novel, which is also rightly popular with adults, tells the story of the mute Melinda Sordino, who has survived an unspeakable trauma that must, finally, be shared.” -JG
The Blood of the Lamb by Peter de Vries
“There are two coming-of-age stories here: one in which Don Wanderhop endures a difficult (but often hilarious) childhood and another in which he must come into a different kind of adulthood, as a father of a child living with cancer. Funny, angry, and thoroughly human, The Blood of the Lamb is the best novel about cancer I’ve ever read.” -JG
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing by M.T. Anderson
“This two-volume novel follows a young slave who is the subject of a strange Enlightenment experiment until his life is upended by the American Revolution. A brilliant novel of war and race and the madness of slavery, Octavian has stayed with me for years.” -JG
(via The Week)