John Green was born on August 24, 1977 in Indianapolis, Indiana, and grew up primarily in Orlando, Florida, which is where Paper Towns is set. When he was fifteen, Green’s parents sent him to Indian Springs, a boarding school in Birmingham, Alabama, where he met other students who loved books and wanted to be writers. Green went to Kenyon College, where he double-majored in English and Religious Studies. Upon graduation, he intended to become an Episcopalian priest, and he interned as a chaplain in a children’s hospital, but the stories of the patients inspired him to become a writer instead. Green moved to Chicago and reviewed hundreds of books for the book review journal Booklist. In 2005, Green published his first book, Looking for Alaska, which is set in a boarding school much like Indian Springs. Looking for Alaska won several awards and immediately established Green as a tremendously popular young adult (YA) author.
Paper Towns, John Green’s third novel, is set in a fictional suburb of Orlando, Florida, where Green spent much of his childhood. Green has written on his website that he was inspired to write Paper Towns because he wanted to write a mystery story and because he wanted to explore how people idealize objects of romantic interest. The book debuted at number five on the New York Times children’s book bestseller list. In July 2015, a film adaptation of the book was released, starring Nat Wolff and Cara Delevingne. Nearly all of Green’s YA books have become bestsellers. Although Paper Towns has enjoyed popularity, it has never reached the rabid fan base of some of Green’s other novels. The Fault in Our Stars, Green’s sixth book, hit number one on Amazon six months before its release date, and the 2014 film adaptation grossed $48 million in its first weekend.
John Green has cultivated an extremely robust presence on the Internet. In 2007, Green and his brother, Hank, pledged to stop writing to each other and instead communicated solely through video blogs that they posted to YouTube. The “Vlogbrothers,” whose YouTube channel has almost three million subscribers, inspired a devoted community of fans who call themselves “Nerdfighters.” The Nerdfighters are people who, according to Green’s website, “fight for intellectualism and to decrease the overall worldwide level of suck.” The Green brothers’ fans, who are primarily young adults, engage with them through their popular website, their videos, and through events such as Project for Awesome, a community-driven charitable movement on YouTube in which people upload innovative videos to support their favorite charities. Green also collaborates with his wife, Sara Urist Green. In 2013, Green’s wife left her job at the Indianapolis Museum of Art to collaborate with Green on a web series about contemporary art called “The Art Assignment.”
Green’s rapid, meteoric rise to fame is credited with creating a dramatic shift in the market for young adult fiction. Reviewers praise Green’s realistic characters, sharp dialogue, and well-crafted prose. In 2013, A.J. Jacobs, writing for the New York Times, used the term “GreenLit” to describe contemporary young adult literature that contains “sharp dialogue, defective authority figures, occasional boozing, unrequited crushes and one or more heartbreaking twists.” Many critics have heralded Green as spearheading a golden age in young adult literature. Green’s online influence is so strong that a tweet or a blurb endorsing a book can cause a spike in sales, an effect that bloggers have dubbed the “John Green bump.” In a 2014 New Yorker profile of Green, Margaret Talbot pointed out that Green’s books appeal to adults as well as teenagers.
However, some critics have pointed out that Green’s work still perpetuates gender norms and other societal conventions. In 2015, a Tumblr post calling Green out for building a cult following created a controversy. Fellow authors of popular YA fiction, such as Rainbow Rowell and Maggie Stiefvater, came to Green’s defense, but the incident prompted Green to state publicly that he would be backing away somewhat from his near-constant social media presence.