Sunday, November 23, 2014

I just had to read see what all the hype is about...and was rewarded.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Image courtesy of John Green's website

I typically use smaller pictures of books on blog posts, but this book truly is "bigger than life," in my humble opinion, hence, the really large picture! Rarely am I "gaga" over a book that is already getting so much HUGE press, however, I feel John Green deserves each and every accolade he receives, and more! This was a selection for both the "Borders" Book Club I facilitate and IUPUI Book Club in which I participate. I have watched the Goodreads stats on this book climb to unknown heights, reaching a peak of 1,198,527 ratings as of today, November 23, 2014. And as I have rarely observed, the overall rating increases as more people read and rate it, currently 4.42 on a 5-point scale today! Wow...just wow... 

This book truly qualifies as one of my favorite reads of all time! That is saying a lot, considering I've been alive 58 1/2 years and I have been an avid reader for most of those years! Seriously, this book rates right up there with Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, The School of Essential Ingredients (and all others) by Erica Bauermeister, The Art of Racing in the Rain (and all others) by Garth Stein, Gemini (and all others) by Carol Cassella, The Aviator's Wife (and all others) by Melanie Benjamin, and A White Wind Blew by James Markert. (As you can see, there are many books that I consider to be all-time favorites, and trust me, this is only a partial list!) 

And John Green is now one of my all-time favorite authors, especially since I have read Looking for Alaska (almost as good as TFIOS, in my opinion) and Paper Towns and loved both of those books, too! I own and will also read An Abundance and Katherines and Will Grayson, Will Grayson in the near future.

I ask myself what it is that makes certain written works so darned appealing to so many readers, and I believe it is typically the potency of the characterization and plot working together to penetrate the soul, consciousness, and emotional center of a reader's being. Naturally, the subject matter of TFIOS is so very poignant--fatal illness among children/teens--that immediately 
connects with the sympathetic and empathetic processes of virtually any reader of any age. Add in the other related issues: "normal" adolescent behaviors and experiences in "coming of age"; parental attitudes of grief, selflessness, and selfishness; death, at any age, but particularly when you've not lived all that long, in terms of a "normal" or expected life timeline; and you're certainly covering much controversial and deeply moving territory! However, in addition, or perhaps as a catalyst for all this, I contend that in the case of TFIOS, Green's very direct and precise dialogue is to blame! A vast understatement: the man definitely has "a way with words"!

So many scenes from this book will live in my memory forever... I will address just a few here. One of the most poignant issues for me was the very different ways in which I felt each set of parents dealt with their children's impending premature death. The Waters' were very "up," posting all kinds of "encouragements" throughout their house (wall hangings, embroidered pillows, etc.): Home Is Where the Heart Is, Good Friends Are Hard to Find and Impossible to Forget, True Love is Born from Hard Times, Family is Forever. As Gus said, "they're everywhere." While I can understand and sympathize with the need to be "strong" and insist your child "fight" for his/her life, I believe there can be a point at which consideration for a good (or even decent) quality of life for the patient, regardless of his or her relationship to you, should override this persistence... In my opinion, though well-intentioned it can become unrealistic and more hurtful (physically and psychologically) to the patient. 

This situation seemed to reach a climax when Gus had to finally assert himself and fight with his parents, insisting that he be allowed to accompany Hazel Grace to Paris to see Peter Van Houten, the author of her absolute favorite book, An Imperial Affliction. There was literally a screaming match just before their departure. Unbeknownst to her at the time, he had been put on "palliative chemotherapy"--they intended for him to remain on this medical regimen for the short duration prior to his death, regardless...while he felt it more important to travel with Hazel Grace. This reminded me so much of times when as a parent, you must listen to your children's desires and help them determine what they should do. I don't believe Gus was given that much leeway...but shouldn't HE be the one to make this decision? After all, he has so little time left on this earth, what is the point of forcing him to endure more physical and emotional misery through such medicinal therapy when the end is so very close anyway? However, it is always so easy to "know" what you would do in certain situations, though in reality, none of us would truly "know" unless we were there, would we?

Whereas Hazel Grace's parents appear to be more compassionate and respectful toward their child overall. Her mother has quit working outside the home and her father cries at the drop of a hat. However, they do encourage her to get out and make friends, even guiding her to complete a GED and enter college, as well as attending the weekly Support Group  meetings in the "heart of Jesus"! One of the most poignant and humorous examples of Hazel's parents' realistic and selfless attitude is reflected on page 7:
           Hazel: "If you want me to be a teenager, don't send me to Support Group. 
                    Buy me a fake ID so I can go to clubs, drink vodka, and take pot."
          Hazel's Mom: "You don't take pot, for starters." 
          Hazel: "See, that's the kind of thing I'd know if you got me a fake ID."
          Hazel's Mom: "Your'e going to Support Group."
          Hazel: "Uggggggggggggg."
Of course, this is the night Hazel Grace just happens to meet Augustus, and that was the start of a true "coming of age" experience for her in so many ways. But this passage really had me thinking about the grieving of parents caught in such situations. That must also include the fact that your child's life is now constantly monitored with little to no room to experience any of the more dangerous and "naughty" events of a typical adolescence, as so many others do when they're not fatally ill. I loved her mother for saying that and not getting all bent out of shape with Hazel's comment. 

"The fault, Dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings." (Julius Caesar) This book explores so many issues/topics! It is fascinating. One mentioned by book club members was the idea of "God"; some felt there was tension between Christianity and "the Universe." Hazel's Dad said several times, "The Universe just wants to be noticed." I like this, it makes me remember that we are all part of one big whole entity. Augustus's note states he is still with her, in Amsterdam he mentions the "inifinity" in little moments--our little tiny infinity. For me this is all a reminder not to overlook or ignore all those "little things" that happen to us every day; it all matters. 

I am certain this book will be a "classic" forevermore into the future, and if not, it should be... Have you had any similar experiences? Or has anyone close to you? Have you read this book? You really should. It is so well worth your time. It feels so REAL...


  1. Wow! Great review. We share some "all time favorites" so I have to give a lot of credibility to your opinion. (pulled this off the CC Feb meme btw). I'll have to add this to TBR.

    1. Hi, Joseph! Wow. If we share "all time favorites," then we should get to know one another! :) I cannot imagine being disappointed in this book. One of my reading friends who virtually always reads genres I would never consider, absolutely loved this book, too. I believe it is "universal" in its appeal. Please do let me know your thoughts if you do read it. Every person I know who has read it, has really liked it or loved it.

  2. TFIOS is definitely a very moving story. It would probably merit attention as a part of the 'John Green phenomenon' alone, but as you said, it's also a fantastic story and has a great many important themes, as well as some very memorable characters. :)

    1. Hello, Sara! Glad you stopped by! Yes, Green appears to be a phenomenon in and of himself, doesn't he? Though I feel it is well deserved. In addition, I appreciate the fact that he hasn't commercialized himself all over the place. Interestingly, when I saw the February Classics Club meme, I just linked to this review. I love reading everyone's answers to this question. Others (such as yourself) have certainly put more thought into it than I have thus far! Thanks for stopping by!