10 Thoughts on “The Fault in Our Stars”

 

TFIOS

1. The book is better than the movie. (As if anything else was possible.)

TFIOSbook

 

2. Hazel Grace and Augustus are stellar character names

TFIOS textTFIOS text Hazel

 John Green had me at Hazel and Augustus. (Okay, so I’m a name freak.) I honestly think these honest, real-as-flesh-and-blood characters would not have popped off the page so vividly had their names been plucked off the Top Ten list with no thought, no heart. When it comes to character naming: no guts, no glory.

3. My 13-year-old son read it first, and I wish he hadn’t.

Usually, I’m tuned in with what he’s reading and I often read along with him. Harry Potter, the Hunger Games etc. I bought TFIOS used, only having the vaguest impressions about it, that it was YA and about teenagers with cancer. I didn’t know there were some scenes and situations in the book that might make him uncomfortable. Still, he’s an old soul (he took an internet quiz and his real age is 37!), and the book led to some good conversations about love, death, the afterlife, and teen sexuality. Do I wish he was a bit older when he read it? Yes. But I’m glad we could “go there” together and talk openly about important topics.

4. John Green is a writer who amazes

TFIOS okay

 Now, I hate the word “amazing,” which ranks right up there with “impact” and “no worries” as the most overused words in our language. Yes, I have slipped into using “amazing” to describe all kinds of things (cheese, an episode of “Parenthood,” and a friend’s new haircut, for example) that have not technically amazed me. But John Green’s writing does amaze me, at least in TFIOS. I laughed out loud a bunch of times, and I cried out loud too, ugly, snotty, hiccup-y crying. I marveled at his scrumptious word choices and delectable phrases. Mostly, I just thought about Hazel and Gus, and Hazel’s mom, and Isaac, and Peter Van Houten all the time. I thought about what they were going through and how I would have faced the same ordeals. I thought about death, and life, and dying, and Heaven, and the exquisite beauty of young love. When you think about all the things that compete for our attention, to be in the thrall of a writer’s gifts is truly, technically, amazing.

TFIOS John Green

SPOILER!

5. But still, did he have to kill my beloved Gus first?

When I read Jodi Picoult’s “My Sister’s Keeper,” I was boiling, stomping mad. I felt it was manipulative to suggest, strongly, that one character would be dying, and then at the very end, to pull a fast one and kill off another character. I’m all for plot twists, and telling stories close to the bone, but in the case of “My Sister’s Keeper,” it felt like I was the puppet and Picoult was the puppet master, jerking my emotions in a way that felt scheming. Could Green have told the story as well without The Gus Twist? It’s a fair question.

6. Everyone in the theater was sniffling, or at least “watery-eyed,” including my husband, who is a rugged, outdoorsy sort of man who wears flannel and longs to live off the land.“That,” he said, after the movie was over, and rows of red-eyed teenagers filed past us in weepy gaggles of misery, “was unmitigated brutality.” He then admitted to watery eyes. This tells me that it’s possible for almost anyone to cry at this movie.

tfios man crying

Not me or Doyle, but what a great picture!

7. The movie is good/bad viewing for anyone who has lost someone to cancer (and possibly other decimating diseases).

Cancer just absolutely sucks the scum at the bottom of the pond. I’ve been through four episodes in my life when the cruelties of cancer eroded my loved ones. In watching (and reading about) Hazel’s mother (played with realism and guts by Laura Dern), I was reminded of how much courage is required to watch someone you love slowly ebb away. For some who have sat by their beloveds, TFIOS may be too hard to take. For others, like me, it could also be therapeutic and cathartic. Either way is okay.

tfios okay 2

8. Gus and Hazel both had good parents

I was impressed with the courage of both sets of parents, and how they didn’t check out in the face of terrifying circumstances. Neither did Hazel’s parents shy away from the frightening conversations of what was coming down the road. My dear childhood best friend, Lori, died at age 31, after facing six bouts of a rare soft tissue cancer. Her mother (my second mother as a kid) couldn’t talk about Lori dying, right up to her death. For thirteen years, they never had that conversation. But what a gift for Hazel’s parents to talk openly about how hard it would be to lose her, and then reassure her that they would be okay after her death.

tfios mom

 

9. Did Patrick, the support group counselor, have to be such a loser?

Some of the most hilarious parts of the book are Hazel and Gus poking fun at poor Patrick, who liked to go on and on about losing a set of appendages very near and dear to him. On one level it’s funny, but on another, it’s just sad that the one firm Christian in the story is so regrettably loser-ish. I would have liked to see him have more dignity. He does, after all, lose everything (including his marriage and career) to cancer, and still musters the courage to devote himself to cancer-stricken teenagers.

10. I wish John Green had included even two-three sentences on the hope of Heaven

I’m all for artful storytelling that doesn’t tie everything up in a Big Fat Evangelical bow. And I’m all for telling stories about characters who may have opposing world views to the storyteller. But I wish a writer with Green’s powers would’ve lined the tragedy, not just with comedy and gusto for life, but with real hope and the conversation about the possibility of Heaven. After all, Green himself is a man of faith who presumably believes in Heaven himself. I find it curious that he would cut off the discussion with a dismissive “Heaven doesn’t probably exist” line of thinking. Yeah, obviously, having co-written a book about Heaven, I’m a booster! Not that Heaven needs me to boost it… But Green could have been so artful, so honest in his explorations of the afterlife; instead, he just slammed the door with “This is all we get.” Weird. I don’t have his gifts, but if I had written Hazel and Gus into being, I would have had them talk about what would happen after their lives ended.

Would they both be going, or just one of them?

If not Heaven, where to?

What would it be like there?

Were they afraid of the afterlife?

Not every dying person wants to have these conversations. But Hazel and Gus seem so gut-honest about everything, I believe they would have.

I wanted to scream at them through the rabbit hole of story.

“Hazel Grace! Augustus! There’s so much more out there! This isn’t all we get! You’ll have no more pain, no more stupid oxygen tank to lug around. No one will behave like Peter Van Houten, and Heaven is going to be so much more extraordinary than even Amsterdam’s canals and orange tulips and champagne!”

Yes, I’m the kind of person who yells at characters in books, especially books like this one, important and relevant to young adults, their parents, and well, everyone.

Feeling pain and loving deeply are two worthy ideas to contemplate with our kids and friends, fellow church goers and co-workers. I came away with a deeper understanding of those ideas, and they made TFIOS worth my time, money and contemplation.

 tfios pain

 Who’s seen it? Who’s read it?

What did YOU think?

What about The Gus Twist? Should Green have mentioned Heaven?

Why or why not?

 

Comments

  1. Ellen Painter Dollar says

    I loved both the book and the movie. Went back and read the book again after seeing the movie (with my daughters, 10 and 14, both of whom read the book and looked forward to this movie for months and months). I agree wholeheartedly that the book was better than the movie, but I liked the movie nonetheless. Two disagreements with you: On the “the Gus twist.” I think this was necessary to bring home some important lessons for the characters. Gus’s death shows Hazel that she’s not merely a “grenade” whose death will ruin those she loves. She is able to learn that loving people is worth the pain of losing them, and also that life goes on in whatever form it is given (in her case, it’s still a constrained life in cancer’s shadow, but a life she embraces nevertheless). I’ve also read interviews with Green in which he says he really wanted to negate all the stereotypes of the heroic dying person, so he needed to show what it’s ACTUALLY like to die of cancer (e.g., sometimes you piss the bed or end up in a gas station parking lot crying and puking your guts out, and you’re not at all brave or inspiring, just dying). Second, I don’t think Green closes the door on heaven. There’s this key conversation in which Gus says he believes in Something, and in “the conservation of souls.” I felt that he very much left the door open, while still making Hazel’s point that this life is really all we have to go on, because it’s all we know. We can hope for heaven, or that we’ll live an extraordinary life and be remembered, but all we can know for sure is each moment. I can embrace that, even as someone who believes in Someone.

  2. Lorilee says

    Ellen, thanks for your excellent thoughts. I hadn’t read that interview with Green. Perhaps I should’ve before I compared him to Jodi Picoult? :) (It doesn’t help matters that Jodi Picoult endorses the book on the front cover!) As for Gus’s belief in Something, I had overlooked or forgotten that quote. Thanks for refreshing my memory. Still, I would have liked to see the door cracked open a bit wider. My old youth pastor used to say “All we get to see is the glow under the door.” For me, Green’s reference was more of a pinprick of light. I would have loved a bit more “glow.” :)

    • Ellen Painter Dollar says

      I’m not a huge Picoult fan, and definitely didn’t see Gus’s death as the same kind of “bait and switch” that she pulls in many of her novels. It seemed necessary for someone to die in this particular story.

      • Lorilee says

        Ellen, I have a Jodi Picoult wound from “My Sister’s Keeper.” I was SO angry! I get a little worked up over these things! I might have some extra sensitivities to surprise deaths due to this! Did you find it strange her endorsement was so prominent? I know she’s huge, but totally different readerships…

  3. says

    I loved the book and haven’t seen the movie. I think Hazel ended with the hope of immortal soul-hood , especially because she talks back to Augustus saying something like “I do, Augustus. I do.” Kind of marriage vow sort of wording (and I got that idea from John Green’s interview on his website) and also, she’s speaking to Augustus who has died. If she didn’t change her thoughts about the immortality of souls, why would she say this? If Augustus had faded into oblivion, there’d be no talking to him. She also turns Peter Van Houten away–literally sends him away from her–and he embodies the existential thinking she embraced before. I find these two aspects compelling, casting a literary glow for me that outshines any overt message it could have had. After all, it invites the questions faith demands.

    • Lorilee says

      “After all, it invites the questions faith demands.” Very true, Wendy. Good thoughts from you, too. I am certainly not advocating for Patrick to give an altar call or anything…:) For me, though, I would have liked just a bit more illumination.

  4. says

    I loved this book. I put off reading it until last month – until after Mike got the all clear from our own battle with cancer this year. But when I did read it I loved it. I, too, was awed by Green’s depth and deftness as a writer.

    The only other thing to add is that I’ll never read another Picoult book in my life. It wasn’t my sister’s keeper that turned me off – it was another one she wrote about a kid with a rare brittle bone disease. I finished that book feeling like I’d been the victim of a calculated emotional mugging. HATED it.

    • Lorilee says

      Lisa, so great to hear your voice! First, I’m thrilled Mike is all clear. You guys have been through so much. As I said in the blog, cancer…..Argh. Cancer. I can’t even wrap my mind around how to describe it. I hate it, for you, for my beloveds, for myself. But as for Green, yes, deft and deep. Picoult? “I finished that book feeling like I’d been the victim of a calculated emotional mugging”? That says it all. Thanks for weighing in.

      • says

        Yeah, this year isn’t winning any “best ever” awards. Mind you, neither did last year, or the year before that. Oh well, 2015 for the win!!! Hope you’re well.

    • Lorilee says

      Lisa, so great to hear your voice! First, I’m thrilled Mike is all clear. You guys have been through so much. As I said in the blog, cancer…..Argh. Cancer. I can’t even wrap my mind around how to describe it. I hate it, for you, for my beloveds, for myself. But as for Green, yes, deft and deep. Picoult? “I finished that book feeling like I’d been the victim of a calculated emotional mugging”? That says it all. Thanks for weighing in.

  5. Lydia Vander Stelt says

    **SPOILER ALERT*** I absolutely loved the book. It made me laugh hard, but cry even harder. I was very impressed at how close the plot of the movie stayed with the book and might have brought a whole box of tissues to the theatre. However, I do agree with your thoughts in that there’s no hope of Heaven in this book. Gus does mention his fear is Oblivion, and that he would die not being someone that mattered. The ending of the book was sad and the tears wouldn’t stop, but I felt as if I didn’t get enough closure. The letter from Gus at the end helped with it, but it left me feeling concerned for Hazel and her future. It ended like Hazel would be okay temporarily, but would eventually lose hope for love and a purpose for life, other than to live as long as she could handle the terminal cancer. Of course, I am not the genius John Green and he may have intended for us as readers to ponder all of this. Seeing as how I wrote an essay response, I obviously am in love with this compelling story and characters. Every story had it’s flaws, I guess. :)

    • Lorilee says

      Lydia, I love your thought about Hazel, that you were concerned for her. I didn’t realize until you said it that I was too. Thanks for your insight!

  6. Olivia TenHuisen says

    I loved both the book and the movie. I feel like John Green addressed several important topics and managed to do it in a way that let you see the seriousness of it, but he also added funny tid-bits here and there to show that Hazel, Gus and Isaac are just normal teenagers stuck in an unfortunate circumstance.
    I do think the Gus twist was necessary. In a literary sense, it changes everything and makes the reader feel the need to continue with the story. If Hazel had died, and not Gus, the book still would have been very good… but not nearly as interesting. Having Gus be told his cancer had spread throughout his body and would eventually kill him allowed Hazel and Gus to struggle together with the idea that they were both dying instead of just leaving Hazel feeling as though no one understood her (because Gus was in remission for the first half of the book). If no one had died, I don’t feel like it would have been an accurate portrayal how cancer affects people. Cancer is a horrible thing that can be just as hard for the people witnessing someone living with it as it is for the victim. People die from it, and I do believe the Gus twist was necessary to the story by not “sugarcoating” it as Hazel said at the beginning of the novel. I thoroughly enjoyed “The Fault in Our Stars” and can’t wait to get my hands on another one of his books :)

  7. Lorilee says

    Interesting thoughts, Olivia: “Having Gus be told his cancer had spread throughout his body and would eventually kill him allowed Hazel and Gus to struggle together with the idea that they were both dying instead of just leaving Hazel feeling as though no one understood her (because Gus was in remission for the first half of the book).”
    And:
    “If no one had died, I don’t feel like it would have been an accurate portrayal how cancer affects people.”
    Very well said. Thanks. (PS: Are you thinking of becoming an English prof?)

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