A few months ago, I was surfing the quiz section of Buzzfeed (as one does when it’s a slow Thursday night at work) when I stumbled upon a post titled “Which John Green Heroine Are You?” Now while The Fault In Our Stars‘ Hazel Grace Lancaster is easily Green’s most recognizable female character, Margo Roth Spiegelman inhabits my favorite of Green’s books (Paper Towns, coming to a cinema near you July 24), and Alaska Young has the allure of tragic mystery, Lindsey Lee Wells of An Abundance of Katherines has always been my favorite of the John Green gals. Naturally, I took the quiz. On my first try, I was dubbed an Alaska Young, which is just completely inaccurate. So I took it eight to ten more times (I can’t remember the exact amount), playing around with my answers to see what the possible outcomes were. Now I’m not wholly apprised of the Buzzfeed quiz algorithm and my experiment was informal at best, but several minutes and many frustrated clicks later, I concluded with a relative degree of confidence that Miss Wells was not an option.
Let’s back up a little. John Green — author, vlogger, teen whisperer, pizza enthusiast — has written several books, the second of which is An Abundance of Katherines. Perhaps the most overlooked of Green’s novels (second only to Will Grayson, Will Grayson, penned with David Levithan), I’ve always thought Katherines was the funniest of his works, and the one in which I connected most with the female characters. The premise of the book is that child prodigy Colin Singleton has just been dumped by his nineteenth girlfriend named Katherine (K-A-T-H-E-R-I-N-E). He and his best friend, Hassan, decide to embark on a road trip, driving south from Chicago in an attempt to get over Katherine XIX and to make his actual prodigious mark on the world (have his Eureka moment, as it were) before he becomes just another washed-up former prodigy.
They stop in the very rural (and fictional) Gutshot, Tennessee, where they meet Lindsey Lee Wells and her mother Hollis, the CEO of Gutshot Textiles, purveyors of America’s finest tampon strings. Colin and Hassan end up staying in Gutshot for the summer, helping Hollis with a project about the oral history of the town and getting to know the people who live there (especially their hosts, the Wells women) in the process. Colin does successfully get over Katherine XIX (and Katherines in general), but I am not here to talk about Colin. I’m here to talk about Lindsey Lee.
Lindsey Lee Wells, veritable princess of Gutshot and eventual object of Colin Singleton’s affections, has always struck me as the most relatable of Green’s heroines. One of the first things Colin notices about Lindsey is that she’s different around different groups of people: she turns her accent on when she’s around the old folks of Gutshot; she’s giggly and girly around her boyfriend, TOC (The Other Colin); and she’s straightforward and to the point with him and Hassan.
What I love about Lindsey Lee (and her mother Hollis, too) is that while she could have been just a two-dimensional, sheltered, small-town Southern girl — an easy foil to Katherine XIX, Colin’s big city ex-girlfriend — she’s not. The first thing Colin notes about her is that she defies stereotype: “He’d always thought people in Nowhere, Tennessee, would be, well, dumber than Lindsey Lee Wells,” Green writes. She’s a girl who loves her town, who wants to be a cynic and embraces (or tries to) her own insignificance in the grand scope of human history — in contrast to Colin, who desperately wants to “matter” on a macro scale. Lindsey Lee is a girl doesn’t quite know who she is, a girl who desperately wants the approval of her mother, her friends, her boyfriend, and a girl who feels she’s lost herself trying to be what they each want.
I connected with Lindsey more than I did with any of the other heroines in Green’s books. I knew her because I was her, to a certain extent (while Louisville is more Memphis than Gutshot, going to college in Maryland and then moving to New York, there is a similar eyebrow raising when you tell people you’re from Kentucky). I had been that girl who went through the middle school, vaguely-emo, shopped-at-Hot-Topic “outsider” phase. I got along better with adults than I did people my own age. I had a strong mother whose approval I’d do anything for. And I was the girl who acted one way around one group and a different way around another: adopting an accent around my Eastern Kentucky friends and family, hiding my nerdy tendencies with my field hockey teammates, trying to listen to cooler music than I actually liked. And I felt for a long time, like Lindsey Lee, “full of shit.”
While the main focus of the novel is about Colin figuring himself out, for me it was always more about Lindsey. Unlike the rest of Green’s books, AAOK is written in the third person, so our focus isn’t as exclusively on Colin and his thought process, but on all the characters. Lindsey Lee’s primary “Eureka moment” comes in the line “You matter as much as the things that matter to you.” Once you realize what’s important to you, everything else will work itself out. By the end of the book, she stops trying to be what other people want, to make herself matter to them, and starts being what she wants instead. Colin has a similar realization: “What you remember becomes what happened.” I like that the moral of the book is that you are the author of your own story — you decide what is important.
Lindsey Lee’s life wasn’t suddenly transformed; there wasn’t any grand finale or sweeping deus ex machina. But if I had to pick a tipping point, it would be when she breaks up with her cheating boyfriend, and then realizes dating him wasn’t what she wanted in the first place. For me, that moment came while doing a summer art program in Providence, Rhode Island. Doing the program meant missing the bulk of summer hockey training, and I had spent weeks agonizing over whether or not to go, worried that by missing pre-season I would be jeopardizing my shot at playing time that fall and letting my teammates down. It wasn’t until about halfway through the summer that I realized I had absolutely made the right decision. I was infinitely happier than I had been during all my previous summers spent in gyms or on the hockey field: It took shaking off worries about other people’s expectations to realize what made me happy for me. We almost never realize we aren’t being our best selves until something happens that forces us to look at things in a different way. And then, hopefully, we learn that who we were in order to please everyone else isn’t who we need to be to please ourselves. We all deserve our best chance at happiness, and we are the only ones who can give it to ourselves.
I found Lindsey Lee at a time when I needed her, and I think that’s why it makes me so upset that she often goes unappreciated. I liked her because she wasn’t exceptional, or a mystery, or something that Colin felt he had to figure out. She was never an ideal the way the Katherines were, so he didn’t have to come to the realization that she was a person, not a fantasy (the way the Quentin does about Margo in Paper Towns). Lindsey is always a person to Colin. She just has to figure that out for herself.