I actually accidentally met John Green before I read anything by him and way before I knew what a nerdfighter was. I got to go to NCTE in Chicago a few years back, a giant convention of English teachers, getting wild over free copies of mistake-riddled publisher’s proofs and asking for autographs from the celebrities of our field. I was actually trying to go meet a particularly wonderful poet, whom I’d just recently read a year before for one of my last grad classes. Unfortunately, the poet had to cancel, and this John Green guy took his place. I was actually really disappointed.
Until I listened to what he had to say about the purpose of education. Then I thought, hey, what a smart guy. I guess I can get over missing out on the really incredible writer. Later, on the convention floor, which is where all the textbook companies try to build a cooler pen to entice us English teachers with, I saw him sitting at a table waiting for folks to ask for his autograph. I thought that no one was coming around and felt bad for him, so I smiled, in a really condescending way, looking back. I didn’t see the line of people wrapped around the corner and going all the way back to the door.
I picked up a copy of The Fault in Our Stars for my students when I started a sort of classroom library for them to borrow from. I was about to say that if I could unread a book, this would be the one, but I don’t mean that. Really, I think that reading this book was a really powerful and important experience for me. Teens should read it because it will help them understand and deal with grief. Adults should read it because it will help them understand and deal with grief. BUT John Green is absolutely unforgivable because he has created smart, interesting, lovably characters in Hazel Graze and Augustus, but then he goes and completely destroys the world. The really awful thing is that you can’t get mad at him for ruining your life when you read it because, as Hazel says, she’s a bomb waiting to go off.
In fact, what really pisses me off about this book is that John Green is such a brilliant writer that I couldn’t stop reading even though I knew it would wreck me. Why are all these really good YA writers trying so hard to make people suffer when they read their work?
But for all of my mixed feelings about this book, I really do think it is a wonderful, powerful thing and that the world is a better place because this book is in it. The story follows Hazel and Augustus, two “cancer kids” who meet at a support group and develop a romance so sad and so doomed that Rose and Jack from Titanic slowly slipped out the backdoor to avoid competing. While the novel certainly deals with grief and dying (in some very humorous ways, atypical of the YA issues genre), it also concerns itself with story telling. It is very clear that John Green, evil as he is, is very well educated on what makes a story. My summary of the story takes out all the life of the book. I realize that’s probably a strange way to describe a book that’s about people who are dying too young, but what that bastard (that is no way a comment on his parentage, only on his writing) John Green does so cleverly is to create a whole world that really only makes sense to the reader because of the dire circumstances in which he places his characters.
5 out of 5 stars for wicked good writing, 2 out of 5 stars for breaking my heart and making me ugly cry so hard I had to stop reading and concentrate on breathing.