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Monday, March 31, 2014


Once again I have been hit hard by a book.  This time the novel is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.  Almost a year ago at a party I spied a young friend sitting on the deck deeply engrossed in a book and facially reacting to what she was reading.  The book was The Fault in Our Stars, and I respect her enough to want to see what had her so mesmerized.

This is a powerful book.  It deals with the lives of three young cancer victims, and it is told through the eyes of one of them, a seventeen year old girl, Hazel Grace.  John Green adeptly gets inside Hazel's head and shares her view of family, friendship, sickness, love, and death. 

Hazel's attendance at a Support Group she attends to please her mother but which she finds incredibly ineffective serendipitously leads her to find a friend in Isaac, a boy who has already lost an eye to cancer and then, through Isaac, to Augustus Waters, a boy who has lost his leg.  This trio, removed by fate from other teenagers, forms a bond and creates a support system that includes humor and an understanding of the flaws in the universe as it applies to them.  Despite the ways their illnesses vanquish some of their hopes and dreams, sickness does not eradicate all of them.

As Hazel's relationship with Augustus grows, she decides to share her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten, a strange book that ends midstream because the main character, Anna, dies.  Hazel's obsession is to contact the author to find out what happened to his other characters: a hamster, Anna's mother, and the Dutch Tulip man.  She writes to Van Houten who is a recluse living in Amsterdam but receives no reply.  How can one recommend a story that doesn't end?  Augustus becomes obsessed with An Imperial Affliction as well, and because of his feelings for Hazel, he wants her to have the answers she needs. 

I refuse to be a spoiler and tell you what happens to any of the three main characters or to the quest to find the ending of An Imperial Affliction.  In fact, I am not going to tell you any more about the plot.  I will promise that you will be thoroughly engrossed and involved with these teenagers and their families.  Augustus' parents have “Encouragement signs” all over the house with sayings like “Home is Where the Heart Is.”  Hazel overheard her mother say, “I won't be a mom anymore.”  Isaac’s mother becomes his eyes.  Yes, some of it will stab you deeply.

We get to learn about Hazel's cancer and treatment through her own voice.  She defines the other characters to us.  She fluctuates in her tolerance to their caring and presents, probably an honest reflection of the fluctuating hopes and fears she as well as the people she loves feel.  John Green does an extraordinary job of presenting his story without sinking into melodrama.  He uses literature, philosophy, and just to keep us all grounded, video games, to make points. 

Most of all, John Green uses love in its many manifestations.  Love can be wonderful; it can also result in excruciating pain. Young love in all its bittersweet manifestations is here.

One of the many things I appreciated about this book was the feeling that I was reading real-life reactions to real-life tragedy.  Getting the teenagers’ reactions to their plights was particularly important.  What happened to their pre-illness friendships and aspirations?  From what source did their strength and faith spring?  How do they react to the deaths of other cancer friends?  In the end, I believe I learned something. 

Essentially an existentialist, I appreciated the approach on all levels.  Lately I’ve been reading books, quite by accident really, that explore our natures and our dealings with everyday struggles.  This book certainly falls into this category, and as I’ve always felt that the lessons in a good book can improve our own lives, this book has improved mine.

As was The Book Thief, The Fault in Our Stars is listed as Young Adult fiction.  Once again, I suggest that parents read this book and discuss it with their children.  It's that powerful.  It can be frightening.
Adults will approach The Fault in Our Stars on a different experience level.  Who knows, maybe it is more difficult for us to accept cancer in children. While I really thought The Fault in Our Stars was a wonderful book for me to read, I admit to very teary reactions to some of it.

I read John Gunther's Death Be Not Proud when I was 11 or 12.  I became so obsessed with Johnny’s cancer that I convinced myself that I had a lump on my head just as he did. The book hit me so hard my mother made an appointment with our doctor so he could tell me I was fine.  But hey, that’s me.

You might be wondering why I am recommending this on Third Age Traveler.  Simple.  John Green has a lot to say.  The novel is written beautifully, and it will keep you totally engrossed.  Go for it.

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