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Paper Towns Author John Green Weighs In On That YA Gender Controversy

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Photo via Instagram.com/JohnGreenwritesbooks
In case you don't know, not only is John Green a brilliant author (The Fault in Our Stars, Paper Towns) and a YouTube cult leader, he is also a diplomat of the nicest variety. Which is why we weren't too worried about pumping him for his opinion on a controversial topic that caused major drama in the young-adult novel blogosphere last week. Andrew Smith, another YA superstar, answered a rather loaded question from Vice magazine about why his novels are disappointingly sparse on female characters.

"I was raised in a family with four boys, and I absolutely did not know anything about girls at all," he said, admitting he felt ignorant about women but was trying to improve. Outrage ensued, as legions of women writers and fans pointed out that he seemed to be assuming women are such an alien species, he couldn't possibly imagine how we work or even attempt to ask us. The arguments were heated, thought-provoking and well made, but it's still not clear that Smith meant anything of the sort. Bustle has a condensed recap of the conversation.

So, what does Green, who is not a woman but had his biggest success with a book told from the perspective of a cancer-ridden teenage girl, think of it all?

"The first thing I'd say about that is online, we've got to embrace nuance over outrage," he told Refinery29 on Thursday, while doing press with actress Halston Sage to promote the premiere of the Paper Towns trailer. "We've got to get past an outrage culture of reading things simply and making really broad conclusions about them, and instead ask questions and try to listen to each other better. Generally, we just aren't doing a great job of listening to each other online. I don't think in the end it's very helpful for the overall quality of discourse."

In other words, stop trolling. But! Green also went on to tell us how he himself manages to write characters that he doesn't directly identify with.

"Look, there is always a challenge of writing any character who is not you, because you're always taking risks and making bets, and there are some risks and some bets that are more difficult than others," he said. See what we mean about being a diplomat? "I wrote Paper Towns in some ways in response to things that I found concerning looking back at Looking for Alaska, my first novel. I guess I felt like in Alaska, the nature of the arc of the story, the whole way through, Miles is mis-imagining Alaska, and he fails to understand her complexity, and that proves disastrous for them. But, the story really isn't about that. For Paper Towns, I wanted to make the story about that. That meant having characters like Lacey and Margo, whom these boys think they know because they're able to pigeonhole them. Both those women upend the boys' expectations of them and prove to be a lot more complicated than they thought."

If all that sounded like gibberish to you, go sit down with a stack of Green novels and three boxes of tissues, and come back to us when you're done. Then, get excited to see how Cara Delevingne and Halston Sage get to bring his female characters to life when Paper Towns opens this summer.
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