Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars--just another love story or something more?

I have to admit-I was a little late jumping aboard the John Green bandwagon. In fact, I tend to wait to read what's "popular" until the chaos settles. So I did with Twilight and Harry Potter, and so I have done with The Fault in our Stars. But, like they say, better late than never, and I'm glad I have bought a round trip ticket to sit on the Green train. 

As a high school English teacher, I rarely have time to read for fun during the school year, and summer not only brings a mental break from the stress that is a classroom of sixteen year old students, but it provides a much welcome return to Young Adult fiction. So I began this summer surrounded by TFIOS movie buzz, and like any English teacher, I wanted to read the book first. After seeing the film and quite enjoying it, I must say that the book, as per usual, was better.

The Fault in our Stars begins with sixteen year old Hazel Grace Lancaster detailing the saga of being diagnosed with cancer at age twelve. Believing that her daughter is depressed, Hazel’s mother strongly suggests that she attend a support group. Much to Hazel’s chagrin, she slowly walks into the church where the support group meets, trudging along with her oxygen tank in tow. Hazel’s cancer left her with a set of ineffective lungs, and now the only way she can maintain a balanced lung capacity is by breathing through her cannula twenty-four hours a day.

But this particular day of support group turns out to be different. Hazel catches the attention of seventeen year old Augustus Waters, who himself has cancer and has subsequently lost his leg. Augustus stares at Hazel so intently that at first she becomes uncomfortable. It is not until Augustus responds to the following prompt: "Augustus, perhaps you'd like to share your fears with the group” with “I fear oblivion” that Hazel takes notice of Augustus as more than another cancer story.

From there follows the tragic love story of Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, doomed to fulfill the title’s allusion to Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar where Caesar tells Brutus: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” No matter how deeply they love each other, each body is filled with an unstoppable cancer, a “grenade” as Hazel calls it, and one seals the fates of these two teens.

One cannot simply say they “enjoyed” this book because that would be admitting that one takes pleasure from reading a book about kids and cancer, and honestly, no one would rather read this than a book with a happy ending. But here is my question: doesn’t this book have a happy ending?

Upon leaving the theater after the movie premiered, I saw so many young girls (and ladies, it’s ok to admit it) leaving the theater in tears. Yes, the ending is tragic, and anyone who knows the reference to Shakespeare should not be surprised, but Hazel realizes so much more about herself because of her journey with Augustus.

She finally sees that her parents have not given up on her much in the same way she stood so intently beside Augustus. She realizes that her mother has been planning on starting a career as a social worker and has not, as she thought, been too preoccupied with worrying about Hazel. Most importantly, she realizes that it’s okay to hold onto what hurts and embrace the choices in life that symbolize disappointment, love, loss, and oblivion.

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