For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, Dutton Books, New York, 2012, 318 pp.

The_Fault_in_Our_StarsI admit I just wanted to see what all the buzz was about with John Green. I started with Looking for Alaska, not willing to even begin a book about kids with cancer if it was just going to be some sappy tear-fest. When I met the voice of John Green in Looking for Alaska, I couldn’t wait to read the next thing–even if it risked making me cry for days. The good news is: it didn’t. Yes, I cried, but mostly I smiled, and I think I even smiled while I was crying.

The narrator of the story is Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 16-year-old girl with terminal cancer. The story opens with her attending a support group for teens with cancer, where she meets the gorgeous and charming survivor Augustus Waters. What follows is a simple, youthful love story between the two star-crossed lovers, with their love binding them together through (and in spite of) the reality of their cancers. They bond over Hazel’s favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, with an unanswered cliffhanger, and they journey all the way to Amsterdam to meet the author. Hazel and Augustus are charming as individuals and as a couple, and their story is beautiful and engrossing.

What is most impressive is the way John Green creates a world for these two–a world dominated by their cancer, but not limited to it, and he finds space for them to exist as human beings beyond their diagnoses. His humor (and therefore the characters’) is irreverent and occasionally biting, with no tolerance for saccharine sentimentality or easy answers. Green and his characters demand depth and authenticity, and they provide it in return.

The novel is packed with beautiful observations about life and death, pain and suffering. Here are some examples I want to remember. First, in response to a plaque in the Waters’ house that says, “Without pain, how could we know joy?”

This is an old argument in the field of Thinking About Suffering, and its stupidity and lack of sophistication could be plumbed for centuries, but suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate. (35)

When their friend Isaac loses his girlfriend and his sight, he goes into a destructive rampage of tears. Augustus observes: “That’s the thing about pain. It demands to be felt.” (63)

Hazel describes herself as a grenade to those who love her. Because she knows that she will die and cause them so much pain, she wants to protect others (and herself) from loving her. (99) If only Hazel’s experience was unique! How many people in this world refuse to let themselves be loved (or to love others) because they fear that the danger inside them will explode and harm someone?

Then there is this exchange:

“You’re a hard person to comfort,” Augustus said.

“Easy comfort isn’t comforting,” I said. “You were a rare and fragile flower once. You remember.” (145)

As teens who know death is near, they spend a lot of time contemplating its reality and meaning. Augustus has even researched the numbers. There are seven billion living people, and 98 billion dead people, which means that there are fourteen dead people for every living one. Augustus contemplates a plan for each living person to remember 14 dead ones, so that everyone can be remembered.(151) It made me think about the cloud of witnesses, hovering around us and cheering for us.

The Fault in Our Stars is packed with wisdom and insight, with honesty and wit. I loved every page, even the sad ones, and there were many more pages overwhelming with joy than with sorrow, which is pretty much the book’s message–we love even though we may suffer for it, because the goodness of love far outweighs the sorrow of loss.

Looking for Alaska by John Green, Dutton Books, New York, 2005, 221 pp.

Looking for AlaskaI have been wanting to see what all the hype is about with John Green. Many of the young people I know have been deeply touched by his books, and adults who have read them have also appreciated them. Now I know why. Looking for Alaska was a great read.

The narrator is Miles Halter, an intellectual high school student who loves to read biographies and memorize the last words of famous people. He convinces his caring parents to let him attend Culver Creek Academy, the same boarding school in Alabama that his father attended. There, he meets his roommate Chip, a scholarship student who goes by “The Colonel,” a Japanese student named Takumi, and, most importantly, Alaska Young, whom he describes as the sexiest girl he’s ever seen. Her room is filled with books, and she is the perfect combination of beauty, rebelliousness, and intellect, with a measure of crazy thrown in. He is christened as “Pudge,” an ironic moniker given his slender frame.

The foursome become fast friends, standing together against the rich, preppy “Weekday Warriors” and breaking all the rules. They experiment with sex, alcohol, cigarettes and defiance. They execute pranks, meet (and break up with) their first girlfriends and boyfriends, and study for classes. They are a charming bunch of misfits, and I loved them immediately, just like Pudge falls for Alaska.

However, tragedy disrupts this joyous journey through adolescence. A member of the group dies, and the rest of them blame themselves in various ways. The second half of the book deals with this guilt, with the sense of responsibility and the burden of grief.

One of the aspects of the book I most appreciated was the presentation of adults in the story. Much like adults in the Peanuts universe, adults in Looking for Alaska are a benign presence, but generally absent from the lives of the young characters. Miles’ parents are caring and kind, the wise headmaster and professor provide structure and rules without harshness or ego. Otherwise, the young people are left on their own to navigate their world. This is a refreshing approach.

What won me over most of all, though, was John Green’s clever and compassionate writing. There was humor and honesty, insight and reflection, all told in an approachable style. The characters spoke an openness that immediately endeared them to me, and I just wanted to keep hanging out with the gang and enjoying Green’s writing. I look forward to reading more.

About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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