As a reader, I am rather picky when it comes to reading books that others recommend. It took me about five years before I picked up any of the Harry Potter books and that was the result of being stranded in an airport pre-Kindle. Mainly, because everyone I talked to about the series loved it like crack and I don’t do drugs. So as I was reading the Fault in Our Stars and ran across the quote below, it was easy to fall in love with the book and its two protagonists, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters.
“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. ” (pg 33)
This was the type of zeal that I have been running from most of my life in making my reading selections. And Hazel Grace understood it and put it into words that make sense to others. Because let’s be honest, telling people that the book they love is crack and you don’t do drugs is a metaphor that most find difficult to comprehend, which leads me another thing that helped me to fall in love with the book. The metaphors.
Augustus Waters, the male protagonist, loves them. His favorite is placing an unlit cigarette between his lips and never lights it. He doesn’t give it the power to kill him. A metaphor like the sad swing set that resides in Esther’s backyard that has never been used.
The antagonist in the book is cancer, non-discriminating cancer. Cancer that takes the lives of children as well as adults. Yet, it is cancer that brings Hazel and Augustus together. They met at a cancer kid support group that Hazel’s mom makes her go to in order to help her deal with her depression, a side effect of as Hazel would say dying. Did you expect me to say cancer? Sorry, no, the book is quite direct when it tells you that Hazel Grace Lancaster is dying. She will never be cancer free. It is also quite direct when it comes to the reality that cancer kids experience.
It is Hazel Grace’s love of a book entitled Imperial Affliction that leads the two on their greatest adventure, a trip to Amsterdam to meet with the author. The book is about a young woman like herself who has cancer and it ends in mid-sentence. The implication being that the book’s protagonist, Anna, has surcome to her cancer. Now, both Hazel Grace and Augustus want answers to their questions about happens to the characters after the book ends. Did the Dutch Tulip man marry Anna’s mother? Was he really a con-artist? And what about the hamster? Unfortunately, for the two of them, the author one, Peter Von Houten, is a miserable drunk who only cares to dwell in his own misanthropy. There are no answers in Amsterdam.
There is however love to be kindled and passion to be set on fire. This is where Hazel Grace falls in love with Augustus. You knew it was going to happen, but Green lets the love affair between these two build slow so you connect to them. You want them to have their happily ever after. But, cancer, our ever present antagonist, doesn’t care. You will and you may end up crying. As another reviewer put it, this book will break your heart. It won’t do it in the way that you think it will which is why this book made the New York Times Bestseller list.
While I can appreciate that an emotional book like John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars isn’t for everyone, I cannot appreciate some of the critiques of it. Do we really have to criticize because it involves deeper emotions in order to promote other books?
Yes, there are other YA authors out there that people will enjoy and there are a ton of books that don’t get the attention they deserve. Bashing one book in order to promote another or more importantly bashing people’s genuine reaction to the book just seems wrong to me. And a little like bullying. There is nothing wrong with crying. I think it actually speaks to John Green’s talent as a writer that he invokes just deep responses in readers. I love books that help me escape my day to day, but books also have the power to do other things like make us think, feel and sometimes, cry.