Intro to Nerdfighters 101: A John Green Primer - Rolling Stone
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Intro to Nerdfighters 101: A John Green Primer

Need to brush up on the popular ‘Fault in Our Stars’ author before seeing the movie? Here’s a guide to the basics

Ansel Elgort Shailene Woodley The Fault in Our StarsAnsel Elgort Shailene Woodley The Fault in Our Stars

Ansel Elgort and Shailene Woodley in 'The Fault in Our Stars'

James Bridges

Right now, in Times Square, there is a giant billboard counting down the days until “the greatest romance of the decade.” Fandango has announced record pre-sale numbers for a romantic drama. The most recent issue of the New Yorker has dedicated nine pages to the man they’ve dubbed “the Teen Whisperer.”

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There are two days to go until the release of the film adaptation for The Fault in Our Stars, writer John Green’s love story about two teens with cancer. Of course, to simply call the proudly nerdy 36-year-old resident of Indianapolis and young-adult novelist a writer – and to refer to The Fault in Our Stars as a teen movie – completely misrepresents the cult phenomenon that the book and its creator have become. In the past couple of years, Green has become something of a rock star to teenage literati, and trying to explain the breadth of this YA godhead’s appeal to those on the outside of the Nerdfighters circle is a big job. Lucky for you, we’ve compiled a cheat sheet.

The Young Adult Novelist
Before Fault, Green had four novels to his name: Looking for Alaska (2005), An Abundance of Katherines (2006),Will Grayson, Will Grayson (a collaboration with David Levithan, published in 2010). He also contributed a story to the 2008 collection Let it Snow: Three Holiday Romances, alongside Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle. All of the works are narrated by teen boys trying to figure out the whole adolescence thing, and have all been well received: Looking for Alaska won the Printz award (the Academy Award of young adult literature); Paper Towns is currently being developed into a movie by the same studio that produced The Fault in Our Stars. 

The Fault in Our Stars
Green’s breakthrough book, The Fault in Our Stars, was published in 2012 by Dutton.  Inspired by his own experiences working as a student chaplain, the book is narrated by a teen girl named Hazel Grace Lancaster living with thyroid cancer. Through her support group she meets Augustus Waters, a jock in remission. Though the two immediately hit it off, Hazel is wary of starting any new relationships when she is terminally ill. It’s a book about dying children filled with jokes, a tearjerker without any sap. It has also sold an estimated seven million copies.  

Calling The Fault in Our Stars a popular is an understatement. It debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list and has been there for 130 weeks. Time named it their top fiction book of 2012, and USA Today named it one of their top ten books of the year. It has been translated into 46 languages (the title of the Norwegian translation: Fuck Fate).

The Vlogbrothers and the Nerdfighters
In 2007, John and his younger brother Hank started a YouTube account called the Vlogbrothers. Initially started as a fun way for the two to communicate with one another from their respective cities, the channel now has more than two million subscribers; their videos are giddy ruminations on pop culture and life addressed from one brother to another. The Vlogbrothers have inspired a huge fandom of its own, spawning references for those in the know like the slogan “Don’t Forget to Be Awesome” (uttered by President Obama himself through a video chat with Green), and the concept of Nerdfighters.

Nerdfighters might sound like, well, bullies that pick fights with nerds — but as John and Hank will be quick to point out, the nerds are the ones doing the fighting. As in, they are fighting for the celebration of knowledge and learning. Nerdfighters are what fans of the Vlogbrothers have dubbed themselves, and it’s a pretty widespread community – one with forums, spinoff blogs, meetups, and events. And, granted, they aren’t so much “fighting,” since Nerdfighters seem to be primarily pacifists.  The whole thing is, ahem, a little adorable, which can be construed as both compliment or insult depending on who’s reading. But the Nerdfighter community is ultimately   And they contribute a lot to charity, which is nice.

The Fans
People who like John Green tend to really like John Green: His fan base, composed primarily of teen girls, will show up in droves to signings. Green currently has 2.7 million followers on Twitter. To put that number into perspective: Veronica Roth (author of Divergent) has 330,000, and  Stephen King has around 422,000.  Justin Bieber has 52 million but, well, he’s Justin Bieber.

The Hype
In a 2013 New York Times review of Andrew Smith’s Winger, A.J. Jacobs coined the term “GreenLit” to describe a category of Y.A. books that have “sharp dialogue, defective authority figures, occasional boozing, unrequited crushes and one or more heartbreaking twists.”

Almost exactly one year later, A.J. Jacobs made the same comparison again when reviewing John Corey Whaley’s Noggin. Here, he calls Green the master of  “first-person, funny-sad young adult novels.” 

The Wall Street Journal also credited endorsements from John Green (dubbed “the John Green bump”)  with boosting the careers of other contemporary Y.A. novelists, including Rainbow Rowell, E. Lockhart, and A.S. King.

The Backlash
The combination of the ideas of “Greenlit” and the “John Green bump” have spawned criticism from longtime YA readers and writers. Bookriot recently published a list of “non-book John Green approved things,” including flowers and dogs. 

The Daily Dot posits a more elaborate critique about why crediting John Green for the success of contemporary, realistic YA fiction ties into a larger more flawed narrative about hierarchies in publishing. The author himself has been critical of the idea that he is singlehandedly responsible for making anyone’s career.

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The Movie
On Friday, June 6th, 20th Century Fox will release a film adaptation of the movie starring Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, and Laura Dern. You can watch the trailer below:

Between his Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube and Instagram accounts, Green kept fans updated on the movie’s progress, from casting to filming to posting selfies with Shailene Woodley at the premiere. Green’s unabashed goofiness, his willingness to share is experiences with his readers, and his refusal to be stoic about his own projects are, ultimately, part of the key to his popularity. In a sea of enthusiastic fans, Green is there, cheering the loudest.


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