Are John Green’s Books Better Read than Watched?

(And by John I mean his books, obviously!)

Having just seen the first Paper Towns trailer – below – it’s an idea I can’t shake off. Now that the second adaptation is in the can, and the third – Looking for Alaska – ever likely, I can’t help but wondering if Green’s stories are better suited to writing, rather than visual storytelling.

Last year, The Fault in Our Stars came out to much acclaim – it pretty much stormed the box office, grossing over 25 times its budget at the box office, and it did pretty well with the critics, too. It’s a no-brainer that they’ll make more movies, but all I can remember is the slightly empty feeling I had watching two of my favourite (and flawed) characters on the screen.


I love John Green’s books because he has this super-awesome writing style which fuses first-person narratives with incredibly insightful themes and imagery. His prose is literally bursting at the reams with symbolism and metaphor (just think of Gus’ cigarette, which is one of the most explicit), which, most of the time, is beautiful and emotionally powerful.

The problem is, you just can’t replicate that on screen. You can reference it, but you can never truly replicate it. It’s one of the things I love about reading; the shades of symbolism, metaphor, themes; nuances of meaning that you can choose to ignore or to indulge in, references to poets and writers and quotations that reveal all the more about the characters in the novel.


When I watched The Fault in Our Stars I was moved; yes. But I wasn’t moved to the same extent as when I read the book (this is what happened: in the final few chapters I was weeping so much that my mother actually came in and asked what was wrong. I told her it was the book. She said “It’s only a book”. IT’S NEVER ONLY A BOOK). In my opinion, the best scene was the Anne Frank house scene – it was emotionally overpowering, brilliantly timed. Sadly that’s not the climax of the story, even if it felt like it in the film. I watched the remainder of the film slightly dazed, bored. Which isn’t great. I’m not saying the filmmakers did a bad job – they didn’t; it was technically accomplished. I just wonder if John Green’s books are almost doomed to fail on the screen – emotionally,  if nothing else. It’s his prose that make his stories what they are and sadly, that just isn’t translatable.

I guess we’ll have to wait until Paper Towns comes out to find out.

About Rhys

Rhys is a 19 year old with roots in the UK and Germany. Aside from reading and blogging, he also produces theatre, loves Kate Bush and hopes to pursue a career in publishing. His reviews have been widely quoted in books such as Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines Quartet, Catherine Bruton’s Pop!, James Treadwell’s Advent and Anarchy and he has presented at such events as Book Expo America.

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