When I tell people that my cat's name is Alaska, they will sometimes ask if I have been there or if I am a Sarah Palin fan. Neither is the case.
Instead, I named her after the main character in a book called "Looking for Alaska," which is a young adult novel written by John Green. When I say "young adult," I don't mean like "The Babysitters' Club" books; Green's works pepper mentions of sex, underage drinking and curse words throughout handling of mature topics such as heartbreak, grieving and even suicide. Green does not dance around those aspects of the world, aspects that his readers have likely begun to encounter on their own, but looks them in the face with candor and humor.
I discovered Green's books when I was at home on vacation earlier this year. My 15-year-old sister had a copy of "Looking for Alaska" lying around, so I picked it up and didn't put it down until I finished the book some six hours later.
Subsequently, I borrowed my sister's copies of Green's other books: "An Abundance of Katherines," "Paper Towns," and "Will Grayson, Will Grayson" (the latter co-written David Levithan). They are fairly quick reads and are, obviously, about teenagers, but the clever writing and vivid characters held my interest. Upon Googling Green, I discovered he happens to be something of an Internet celebrity because of a project he started with his brother Hank in 2007. The two ceased communicating via email in favor of "video blogs," which they exchanged every weekday for a year.
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The "vlogbrothers" now post videos three times a week to their YouTube channel, which has more than 180 million views. They offer some educational videos (funny, simplified explanations of things like the Greek debt crisis) and quite a few amusing videos (on topics such as the mating habits of giraffes). In doing so, the brothers are using technology and humor to educate and provoke discussion in a young audience that desperately needs to be reached by something other than "Jersey Shore" and whatever their friends are saying on Facebook.
Additionally, the Greens are making it "cool" to be a nerd. Calling themselves "nerdfighters," fans of the brothers communicate on a message board, engage in various projects and devote themselves to positive causes that they call, collectively, "decreasing world suck."
Can I just say how much more at ease I would have felt as a teenager if this sort of community had existed then? Growing up with an inordinate interest in something "nerdy" like reading or history, you can feel like a freak or like it's not OK to be who you are. (Maybe that's just universal to adolescence.) But John Green through his books and both Greens through their use of technology have somehow made it not only OK, but actually pretty awesome. As John Green says: "Saying 'I notice you're a nerd' is like saying, 'Hey, I notice that you'd rather be intelligent than be stupid, that you'd rather be thoughtful than be vapid, that you believe that there are things that matter more than the arrest record of Lindsay Lohan. Why is that?' In fact, it seems to me that most contemporary insults are pretty lame. Even 'lame' is kind of lame. Saying 'You're lame' is like saying 'You walk with a limp.' Yeah, whatever, so does 50 Cent, and he's done all right for himself."
I'm not quite in the target audience, but I find the movement fascinating all the same.