Angst All the Way Down: Where to Get Started With John Green Books

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Abby Hargreaves

Staff Writer

Abby Hargreaves is a New Hampshire native living and working as a Children’s Librarian in Washington, D.C. She fulfills the gamut of the librarian stereotype with a love of cats, coffee, and crocheting (and likes a good run of alliteration). Her MLIS degree enjoys the company of a BA in English from Hollins University, making Abby an advocate of women's universities. Her favorite color is yellow.

You may have heard that YA author John Green is about to release a book of essays, The Anthropocene Reviewed, which will give fans of his podcast of the same name more insight to topics covered on the show. With a more adult audience in mind, it’s likely that The Anthropocene Reviewed will bring in a new audience of readers. If you’re among them or otherwise wondering where to start with John Green’s work, these books will get you well on your way with his signature introspective and angsty stories.

Whether you’re looking for something heartbreaking, something funny, or something to liven your spirit, there’s a bit of everything for everyone in John Green’s novels. While his catalog is still manageable for anyone who wants to read anything and everything he’s done, this list will focus on just a few to get you started. Meanwhile, hardcore John Green fans my also point you toward his video blogging project with brother Hank Green called VlogBrothers, in production since 2007; his work with Crash Course; his involvement in VidCon; his project known as the Foundation to Decrease World Suck; and many, many other things to explore if you decide Green passes your vibe check and you want more.

Reading Pathway: John Green

Looking for Alaska

The quintessential John Green novel and his debut, this book follows Miles, AKA Pudge, at a boarding school where he falls in love with Alaska Young. As Pudge, Alaska, and their friends get up to various mischief at school while coming of age, none of them could predict what’s about to happen and it will change everything forever. 

Looking for Alaska has been the subject of challenges and bans for some time and as recently as 2019. If that (and its promise to break your heart) doesn’t tempt you enough to pick it up, the book has been compared to The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky and has some lowkey dark academia vibes—a great choice for fans of Dead Poets Society. You can also catch the adaptation on Hulu. If you love this one, the book is also thematically similar to another of Green’s novels, Paper Towns.

An Abundance of Katherines

After dating 19 girls named Katherine, Colin is done with leaving love up to fate and has instead decided to turn to math. Armed with plans to apply a mathematical formula to future relationships, Colin embarks on a road trip with his best friend where, on the open road, he can be anyone.

An Abundance of Katherines takes a sharp left turn from the heaviness of most of the rest of Green’s work to be funny and playful while still maintaining his signature philosophical poignance. Readers who like extras will enjoy the illustrations and footnotes. Some readers have pointed out Abundance hasn’t aged particularly well and does have some problematic elements including misuse of the Arabic word “kafir” and self-deprecating fatphobic language.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson with David Levithan

Will Grayson, meet Will Grayson. On a cold night in Chicago, two teens both named Will Grayson meet and their paths are forever intertwined even as, despite their geographical proximity, they might as well live worlds apart. The two Will Graysons suddenly find their name doppelgängers like planets passing in and out of each other’s lives as they each pursue their own romantic and adventurous stories.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is Green’s second collaborative novel (the first being Let It Snow with Lauren Myracle and Maureen Johnson, adapted by Netflix in 2019). Will Grayson has an LGBT storyline and the benefit of Levithan’s extensive experience in YA literature including several solo and collaborative books and a career in editing. More lighthearted than Green’s usual fare, Will Grayson is a nice pick for readers who want to wait on the heavier material.

Turtles All the Way Down

Aza is struggling with anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. When an opportunity arises to get her hands on a mystery that no one else seems able to solve, she finds herself deeper and deeper entrenched in it, teaming up with the missing, fugitive billionaire’s son. While Aza chases after the elusive Russell Pickett, she is also faced with working to pursue a healthier, more fulfilling life.

I waffled on whether my last pick ought to be Turtles All the Way Down or The Fault in Our Stars, the latter of which is easily the better known. Ultimately, I went with Turtles because it’s own voices and, while it was well-received, I’m not convinced it got the love it deserved as far as John Green novels go. This is John’s second go with a teen girl narrator (something he prepared readers for prior to the publication of The Fault in Our Stars, which has the same). Despite the less enthusiastic response, I maintain this one is worth a read. It’s also worth noting that, more than any of his other books, Turtles feels like a book written for adults.

After John Green

Now you know where to get started with beloved young adult author John Green, check out some other young adult authors like Green’s friend, Maureen Johnson, Jason Reynolds, and Jenny Han.