Readersforum's Blog

March 27, 2013

A Note on Nerdfighters

nerdfightersBy Michelle Dean

In her article about transgender teens in the magazine this week, Margaret Talbot quotes Annette Bening and Warren Beatty’s son Stephen calling himself, among other things, a “nerdfighter.” It might escape the average reader’s notice that this term is more than the sum of its parts. In the teen-age population, “nerdfighter” has a very specific meaning and etymology. Primarily, it identifies the teen-ager in question as a follower of John Green. Green is a former divinity student who dropped his plans to join the ordained ministry after a stint as a hospital chaplain. But you could say that, in his career as a young-adult novelist, he’s become another sort of evangelist. His “A Fault in Our Stars” débuted at No. 1 on the children’s best-seller lists about a year ago. It is about a love affair between two teen-aged cancer sufferers, and was drawn, in part, from his experience as a chaplain.

Green has been writing about teen-agers who don’t quite fit in, albeit in less epidemiologically significant ways, for some time. His first novel, “Looking for Alaska,” in which a boarding-school student puzzles out what happened to his friend when she died in murky circumstances, showed a knack for the alienated-whip-smart-teen-ager genre. Some people might mutter something here about formula. But, for his readers, Green did what David Foster Wallace said good fiction did: he made them feel less alone. The book was not an instant best-seller when it appeared, in 2006, but it was something almost better: a cult hit. And, as such, it gave Green the beginnings of an online following.

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