I am suffering a little bit from a book hangover and thought I would share a few thoughts about John Green’s latest best-seller, “The Fault in Our Stars”. And, as Augustus Waters says, “my thoughts are stars that can’t fathom constellations”, so I apologize for the sporadic-ness of this blog post.
The Author: First of all, I must comment on the author himself, John Green. He is incredibly nerdy, which is not a bad thing at all. I appreciate, throughout all of his books–Paper Towns, An Abundance of Katherines, Looking for Alaska (which is completely unbeatable and my all-time favorite John Green novel)–the erudite references. In this one, he includes many literary references, especially Shakespeare. The title itself is named after a quote in Julius Caesar, when one Roman nobleman says, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings”, which basically says that fate and destiny do not control our outcomes, but rather our choices and decisions. The main character themselves are also very nerdy–they are brought together by a book, they bond over playing nerdy videogames together, and constantly have deep, life conversations that use lots of big words. So, John Green, thank you for portraying us nerds in a positive light.
Summary: The book, a young adult novel, is about a terminally-ill cancer patient, Hazel Grace, who unexpectedly falls in love with another cancer patient, Augustus Waters. In the beginning of the novel, Hazel is a recluse, because she fears she will become a grenade when the cancer finally defeats her and her loved ones will be so grief-stricken, so broken that they will not be able to carry on normally. Then, she meets this boy who completely changes her entire perspective.
A few criticisms I have about this story: first of all, it is completely and utterly predictable. Not to spoil anything, but someone does die in the end (I probably would have cried at this point, but my dogs were running and jumping all over me while I was reading). Second of all, the teenagers engage in some kind of behavior that, I feel like, as a writer of young adult novels, we should not necessarily be promoting. And last, while I think John Green has some FABULOUS thoughts and perspectives about life and death and dying, I don’t feel like the story itself ever gives enough justice to some of those ideas. I found myself stopping to read and resonate in so many good quotes that were never fully developed; “You of all people know it’s impossible to live without pain”, “Pain is like fabric: the stronger it is, the more it is worth”, “the world is not a wish-granting factory”, “As he read, I fell in love like you go to sleep: slowly, and then all at once”, “Some infinities are bigger than other infinities”. And, call me a cynical, but the teenage love story got a little too sappy for me, but I have to remember it is written for teenagers who indulge in that kind of stuff (I also make fun of any Nicholas Sparks movie or James Patterson romance novel). Overall, I would recommend this novel to anyone who wants some semi-light reading (I say semi, because while the story and writing style itself does not take major amounts of comprehension and symbol-uncovering, any story about people dying of cancer will be emotional).
The Good Stuff: Among many things, I think one of the most important messages that John Green sends through this book is that, when we live in fear, we miss out on the joys life has to offer, especially in relationships. At the beginning of the novel, Hazel Grace’s social circle involves her mom, her dad, and a distant friend; she knows she is doomed to die someday and does not want to get close to people for fear of making them suffer (so unconventionally heroic). So, when she meets this Augustus Waters, a handsome, charismatic, amputee, she is a little cautious. However, as their ‘perfect’ relationship progresses, she allows herself to experience some of the wonderful feelings, emotions, and memories “being in love” permits. She discovers that, although pain is inevitable, the moments they spend together are worth it.
While we may not be dying of a terminal illness ourselves, I think many of us live our lives in this fear of experiencing this emotional pain. It is no doubt that loss sucks, whether is be through a break up, a move, a death. When most of my friends begin a new relationship, their first hesitation is always, “He could be potentially perfect, but what if it doesn’t work out and I get hurt in the end?”, “I am just really scared of letting people in. What happens if they betray me?”, But, life after all, is very unpredictable and you will never know what could happen unless you let yourself experience it.
So, why not let yourself love? (And in love, I do not just mean lovey-dovey love, but also love for your friends, family, pets, etc.) Yes, there is undeniably a risk that someone will experience pain in the end. But, aren’t those moments you spend together, those memories you create, those amorous feelings worth any pain that might surface in the end? Because, all of those things can always be re-visited in your memory, as Hazel Grace discovers.