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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