Friday, July 18, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars: Heartbreaking and Beautiful

Perhaps I am the last English-speaking person on the planet to read The Fault in Our Stars, the young adult novel about two teens with cancer who fall in love.  But I am glad I got around to it. This beautiful book will break your heart.

Well, I haven't actually read the novel; I listened to it on my iphone yesterday and today as I drove from Indianapolis back to my home in New Jersey. I had spent the week in Indianapolis, attending a conference called "Teaching Teachers to Teach Kurt Vonnegut."

The attendees, most of whom had ties to the Hoosier State, were chagrined that I said had not read the novel by the best-selling native son, John Green. Our 14-year-old son devoured the book over spring break in Florida. Properly chastised by my peers, I downloaded the book on my iPhone and listened to it during the 11-hour drive home. (I had one earbud in and one earbud out as I drove. )

The book is wildly popular and the movie of the same name was released in June and promises to be one of the year's most profitable. Because the story is so enmeshed in popular culture right now, I decided to not ask anyone questions about it, or to read book or movie reviews. In other words, I wanted to approach the novel without preconceptions. The only thing I knew was that it was about people with cancer and that one of the conference attendees told me he had to stop reading it on a public bus in his hometown of Singapore because he was about to cry. "I'm a 46 year old man and I can't be crying on a bus."

This novel is a long meditation on the nature of God and the meaning of life as seen through the eyes of a sixteen year old girl named Hazel. In some moments, her voice grew dark and I had to turn off the iPhone and listen to music to distract myself. There was a lot of sadness to take in.

Like my friend, I did cry. I also laughed and laughed. Having just spent a week in Indiana, where I stayed with old friends, it was neat to know the places Green was describing. But that would not be necessary to enjoy the story.

The book is about death, about the purpose of our lives. Hazel comes to her own conclusions about what gives life value. She has a relentlessly honest, unflinching approach and she refuses to borrow the views of her parents, her boyfriends, the ministers at church, the social workers and anyone else she encounters as she copes with her illness.

This is, to me anyway, how it should be.  Our lives are gifts and we must embrace our circumstances.

"That’s part of what I like about the book in some ways. It portrays death truthfully. You die in the middle of your life, in the middle of a sentence” 
― John GreenThe Fault in Our Stars

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