all the john green books.

Fresh Scratch, An Abundance of Katherines, John Green

My book club has experienced a serious decline in the last couple of years. While this has been a sad loss of friend-time, it’s left me with a lot more choice in the way I’ve spent my reading time. Case in point: this late summer/early fall, I finished reading all of young-adult author John Green’s books.


I checked them all out way back in June from the library of the high school where I teach, imagining I’d have them all read before I even left for Europe a week later.

Ha, ha.

Ha, ha, ha.

Sometimes I am so hilarious. I didn’t finish them until about Halloween because, um, LIFE! And so the poor little teenagers were all like, “Who has had Paper Towns checked out all year so far?! OMG!” And I was like, um, smiling sheepishly.

You may recall that I read The Fault in Our Stars the previous summer to see what all the fuss was about {click here to see that brief review}. So now I am a bonafide John Green book expert. Take that!

To start – and to keep it real – none of his books have had me at “hello.” They are a slow burn, until I find myself rushing home from whatever I’m doing so that I can curl up with one and find out what the heck these crazy young people are going to do next.

The protagonist in each of his books is a dude. How awesome is it that there are books about real teenager drama with boys as the main characters? When I was a kid, it was a Gary Paulsen book or a fantasy book if you wanted a male protagonist. I like this about John Green’s writing. Because – by golly! – boys are people, too, and they have angst just like us ladies. I honestly remember when I first realized that they were just like us {mostly}, and it wasn’t until late college. Whoops.

The books take place all over the South: Paper Towns is set in Florida, An Abundance of Katherines is in Tennessee, and Looking for Alaska is set at a crappy boarding school in Alabama. The Southern settings are another thing I love, because I lived in South Carolina just long enough as a teenager to have that sensory connection to Green’s descriptions of the humidity and the paved roads that turn to dirt/clay ones and the abandoned buildings in the middle of nowhere and the such.

Green writes with the nostalgia and hindsight of the late-thirty-something that he is. It’s like each book is a version of something that may or may not have happened to him, but with that flavor of “but, try as I might, that is the only way it went down. I don’t get a do-over using what I know now about life, and that kinda sucks.” {It does kinda suck, John.} So his characters have this depth and wisdom to them that make them precocious, lovable, and relatable to an adult reader.

Here are my brief thoughts on each:

Fresh Scratch, Paper Towns, John GreenI think that Paper Towns is my favorite of all of them, because I don’t know about you, but I sure could relate to that desire of wanting to be with one of those cool guys that everyone loved in school. And I had a very distinct vision of what that would be like. Our buddy Quentin feels that way about his next-door neighbor Margo. She seems to have it all. Then one night she comes to his bedroom window and recruits him for a wild night of vengeance against all the other popular kids who, apparently, have wronged her. It sounds a little like Heathers, but I promise it has a sweetness to it.

He so badly wants to be right about her – right that surely she is still the same girl with whom he played as a kid, right that maybe this is the beginning of a meant-to-be kind of relationship. When she disappears the next morning, leaving behind clues meant only for him, he goes on an epic quest to bring her home…because surely he understands her better than anyone.

Fresh Scratch, An Abundance of Katherines, John GreenWhile I loved Quentin in Paper Towns, An Abundance of Katherines has a main character that I found a bit annoying. Colin has had only Katherines for girlfriends his entire life – like nineteen of them. When the last one totally breaks him down out of nowhere and right when he graduates from school, he has a melodramatic breakdown that involves puking. Honestly. His irreverent buddy Hassan comes to his rescue, taking him on the road trip of a lifetime. He meets a girl named Lindsey, moves to Tennessee for a while, and works on developing his algorithm to predict the success of any relationship. He learns that girls named Katherine do not have to be the center of his universe. Because, duh.

Fresh Scratch, Looking for Alaska, John GreenOut of the three books here, this is the one that sucker-punched me. Things happen in Looking for Alaska that I didn’t see coming. This book has some raw, raw storytelling, and it stands apart from the other two. And it’s won a big award!

Alaska is a girl met by our main character Miles. I really like Miles. Miles is a real dude. He has flaws. He makes mistakes, much moreso than Quentin and Colin. He is obsessed with people’s last words – he seriously knows the last words of like every famous person {this is where I also tell you that each book teaches me real stuff! John Green is wicked smart and curious about many things. I often use his Crash Course in Literature vlogs with my English students}. He’s a small fish in his Florida town. He decides to apply to his dad’s old boarding school in Alabama, thinking it will be fancy and different and will get him closer to “the great perhaps” – which is his phrase for the possibility of, well, anything exciting happening in his life, but mostly something big.

Dad’s boarding school is sparse, un-fancy, and more closely resembles a prison than the kinds of places Miles had had in mind. But Alaska is there. Alaska, with her love for Boone’s Farm wine and for books – her room is literally stacked with them. She’s wild and – to quote Dylan McKay of 90210 – “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” So, naturally, Miles adores her. He just wants to be close to her in any way he can. Alaska makes him feel like he matters. Until she doesn’t.

Sometime soon I need to see the film versions of The Fault in Our Stars and Paper Towns. But not right now. This past weekend we got a new family member: a chocolate lab puppy I named Gussy – short for Augusta. You know, because we really needed yet another girl in our family. And we really needed another pet. Kind of like we need me to break my leg again. Which means I am kidding. But we love her just the same.

What’s up with you and books lately? What have you read that knocked your socks off? Do tell.


mrs. fresh scratch


Fresh Scratch, Elizabeth Gilbert

Welcome to 2016, buddies. This year, curiosity is riding shotgun in my front seat.

I’m a big fan of having a word of the year. Like my friend Emily says, resolutions just get broken.

But…a word? It’s like a guide. It’s like reading a choose-your-own-adventure novel (remember those?) and making every choice based upon how well it fits with your word, only the novel is your life.

Embrace. Freedom.

Those were my words the last couple of years, and they steered me straight. Embrace got me a writing job, and Freedom got me a lot of adventure and empowerment.

Fresh Scratch, Elizabeth Gilbert, Big MagicAnd this year? Well, this year I had fully intended up until five minutes ago to Create. Last week I read Liz Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear in two afternoons at the beach, and I was – and still am – high on the importance of creating.

But then I sat down to tell you about that, and realized what really turns me on, and what houses the word create so beautifully, is curiosity.

It is lately the trait I find most appealing in others, and so I want to cultivate it in my own life. Because curiosity? Well, curiosity will get you everywhere. It will get you to all the other words of the year you may have chosen instead.

The people I like are curious. They might be curious about one thing or curious about a zillion things, but they’re always chasing something. And that means they have energy. Life hasn’t yet burned them out. And that, I think, is a good thing to strive for. I’m just going to follow what interests me and see where it takes me this year.

Right now I’m curious about what a little solitude will do for me sometime soon. Perhaps some time with nothing but some books and my journal. I know it’s something I need, but I also loved recently re-discovering in an editor’s note from Cook’s Illustrated a year ago that knowing how to be in your own company is sort of an old-fashioned, dying art. And y’all know I like the folksy stuff. Give it a read. It’s gorgeous.

I’m also curious about photographing the North Cascades when my leg (and the snow) will cooperate to get me to Diablo Lake. Because this little gem from Edward Abbey has me fired up:

One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast…a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there…..and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate awesome space.

And if you have the time, this talk on the importance of curiosity versus passion, by Liz Gilbert, is the bomb dot com. It inspires me to the max. What are you curious about? Tell me! Nothing intrigues me more.

And if you need a little magic, might I suggest:

Very curiously yours,

mrs. fresh scratch