|Image courtesy of John Green's website|
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"!
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."
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...