Later this week, 20th Century Fox will release the highly anticipated Fault in Our Stars (FiOS), a teen romance based on the best-selling 2012 Young Adult novel by John Green. Social media has been buzzing over this movie for years, and the excitement is getting even more intense as the premiere date gets closer. The trailer for the film has nearly 20 million views, and John Green has been popping up all over social media promoting the film.
The success of FiOS might seem surprising. There are no supernatural creatures, it’s not set in a dystopia where teens must fight to the death, and it lacks much of the dark, fantastical elements we’ve come to expect in teen media. It’s a realistic story about two terminally-ill teens who meet and fall in love. The story isn’t new to Young Adult fiction (or “YA” among the indoctrinated!), but Green’s story has made a huge impression on teen and adult readers. A lot has already been written about what makes FiOS so successful (its raw emotions, its universal story of love and life, its compelling characters, etc.), but we thought of a different reason as to why FiOS is not only so wildly popular, but also why it’s popularity isn’t that surprising.
Teen culture has always been about balance. For every bad boy, there is a boy next door; for every nerd, a jock; and if there’s heartache, there’s a new romance. The list could go on. Even popular culture aimed at teens balances itself. The crazy stunts and outrageous antics of Lady Gaga are balanced by Taylor Swift’s wholesome good-girl.
After years of supernatural creatures and murderous teens, FiOSbalances YA literature and teen culture. For years, teens have been bombarded with (and rabidly consumed by) dark fantasy, paranormal romance, and dystopia. Just when it looked like the scale was beginning to tilt a little too far, along came FiOS with its human, fallible characters, its awkward romance, and its gritty exploration of a very real and very human issue: illness and death. FiOS provides teens with something different, something to offset the media they’ve been consuming for so many years.
Even John Green himself is vastly different from other YA authors. Green was one of the first major vloggers on Youtube, a platform he has used successfully to speak to teens and promote his books. Green tweets and takes to Tumblr. His celebrity status and willingness to engage with teens has led some to call him the "teen whisper", unlike Stephanie Meyers and Suzanne Collins, neither of whom have actively engaged with their audience in the ways Green does.
While it might be easy to talk about the importance of tension in teen products or offerings, we think a bit of balance might be a better formula for success. Extreme might make for a headline, but balance makes for a bestseller.