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John and Hank Green and Falling in Love With the World

The Atlantic

The evening at Carnegie Hall (Hank gave several stomps of a foot to the stage anytime anyone said the words; the audience stomped back) was a celebration of the one-year anniversary of John's most recent book, The Fault in Our Stars. If you haven't, you really should read it. It's about two kids who meet and fall in love at a cancer support group, and in it he manages the unexpected: It's life-affirming instead of maudlin; beautiful and moving instead of simply depressing. I've gone on about that book previously, and its excellence has been noted by plenty of others, so you don't even have to take my word for it.

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That journey does not need to be an oppressively sad one, though, even if we acknowledge that parts of life are inescapably sad. The Green brothers, both energetic 30-somethings, are all about community, and collaboration, and not being alone — metaphorically, but also probably literally. Not feeling alone, at least. So they've surrounded themselves with others, each other and beyond. Their video-blog project, Brotherhood 2.0, begun in the mid-2000s, involved the creation of Vlogbrothers and led to memes, catchphrases, fans known as Nerdfighters, and the world of "Nerdfighteria" that's still going strong. It's a full-blown movement, with meetings and project collaborations and friendships and forums, in person and online. And there's the related Project of Awesome from the brothers — "an annual event that sprung out of various YouTube communities to support charities and other ways of decreasing the overall worldwide level of suck" — which has raised hundred of thousands of dollars to help make the world a better place, a place where it's O.K., even awesome, to be a nerd.

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But the quote perhaps best summing up the night is what John said about the community that's sprung up around the brothers and their projects: "It has helped me fall in love with the world." In their interactions with Nerdfighters and fans, the Green brothers are empowering them to do the same, but there's nothing mushy or cloying about it — they're just being themselves. Back in October, Laurie Halse Anderson, the author of the iconic Y.A. novel Speak, told me of John Green, "I just love him and have such respect for how he’s made the world safe for a lot of kids to be who they are. It took me to age 35 to be who I was; if I were 15 now, John would save me years of angst. He is a holy man." 

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It shouldn't be hard for adults to understand kids, for publishers to market to them. After all, we've all been there. And yet so much of what one sees targeted to young readers (and some of the things grownups say and think about kids) seems to underestimate their intelligence or just, somehow, be a bit off. Contrary to that is the incredible, palpable affection I witnessed from fans of John and Hank, an affection that expands to include anyone or anything John and Hank like, love, or respect. If there is something to be learned in terms of book publishing from this event, it's don't talk down to your audience. Be honest and authentic. Be talented (of course). But also have fun. Why wouldn't kids, as well as adults, respond to that? They do, as the Internet has proved, with 200 Tumblr meetups worldwide last night for the event, plus hundreds of posts tagged "Evening of Awesome," "The Fault in Our Stars," and "Carnegie Hall." Carnegie Hall was also a trending term worldwide. If the brothers have fallen in love with the world, clearly the world loves them back, with a standing ovation. If this is the future of Y.A. communities and readership, it's a great thing. That it's actually the present makes it even better.

Inset at top of John and Hank by Andrea Fischman.

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