Monday, February 24, 2014

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green (Odyssey Award Winner 2013)

Published in 2012
Realistic Fiction

John Green's book The Fault In Our Stars was not my first choice of an Odyssey Award winning book that I am required to read for my literature class at the College of William & Mary, but when a teacher at the school where I teach said her daughter had a copy and that I could borrow it, I decided to give it a try.

I heard that a film based on the book will be released soon, so I thought I'd like to read the book before seeing it in the theater. I knew the book was about teenagers who meet in a support group for cancer patients and was at first hesitant to read it because of the personal loss of my husband after a six-year battle with cancer, but I thought it might help to get another person's viewpoint of their battle with the disease. Well, the book did, in fact, bring back memories, but not like I expected.

You see, my three boys, Justin, Christopher, and Jonathon were only 5, 8, and 11 years old when their dad was diagnosed with colon cancer; they were 11, 14, and 17 when he passed away. For six long years, our family lived with this disease and fought it in every way possible. Most of their childhood was spent with their father in and out of hospitals, with multiple surgeries, chemo, and radiation treatments. It was painful to see my husband deteriorate during the final months of his life when the cancer finally reached his brain.

During his first surgery, my husband had 13 tumors removed from his colon and rectum which left him with a permanent colostomy bag. His second surgery left him with one lung, and his final surgery left him without his bladder, his prostate gland, and part of his tailbone. He ended up with a urostomy bag in addition to his colostomy bag and was in constant pain for the remainder of his life because the nerves in his legs had been damaged during his final surgery. I didn't realize a person could live with so many organs removed from his body. It was devastating for my husband; it was devastating for our family, but I can honestly say that my husband never once complained about the pain he was going through. Not once. I couldn't have been that strong. I couldn't have been that noble. My children never complained either. We did what we had to do . . . together. We had to go on living. We had to survive. We had to have hope for the future.

When the cancer finally reached my husband's brain in December of 1999, I knew it wouldn't be long before his battle would be over. The tumor was located in the center of his brain and was inoperable. He began to deteriorate quickly, and he was no longer the man I had married or the father my children had grown to love. His behavior and appearance changed so drastically, that my children, it's sad to say, seemed afraid of him. But this IS the hard reality of OUR family's battle with this disease. It was devastating. Three months later, my husband was gone.

As you can see, this book did bring back memories, but not like I had expected. Rather than being inspired or encouraged by what I read, I found the book to be depressing, very depressing. I would not recommend this book to a child or teen fighting cancer unless you want them to become sarcastic, bitter, depressed individuals who are mad at the world. I would not recommend this book to anyone who doesn't have a deep and abiding faith in God and friends they can depend on who will see them through to the end. It just won't do them any good, and it could make their situation even worse.

The Fault In Our Stars is about Hazel Grace, a sixteen-year-old girl who is diagnosed with Stage 4 Thyroid cancer, which has metastasized and spread to her lungs. She has always been terminal and sinks into a deep depression. After a visit to her doctor, she is forced by her parents to go to the basement of an Episcopal Church to meet in a cancer support group, and it's obvious she doesn't want to go.

Hazel's friend Isaac is also a cancer patient and attends the group. He has lost one eye and is about to undergo another operation to remove his second one, leaving him blind. The first time Hazel attends a meeting in the basement, which they sarcastically and repeatedly refer to as "The Sacred" or "Literal Heart of Jesus," Isaac brings a friend, Augustus Waters, who has been diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Augustus, also known as "Gus," has had one leg amputated, but is in remission.

Augustus and Hazel end up falling in love, and Augustus gives up his dying wish from the "Genie" foundation (or so it seems) so they can take a trip to Amsterdam to meet Hazel's hero Peter Van Houten, the author of a book called An Imperial Affliction, which Hazel refers to as "the book that was as close a thing as I had to a Bible" (13). Ironically, her "hero" Van Houten turns out to be a bitter, old man who has become an alcoholic because he has lost his own six-year-old daughter to cancer. After the death of his daughter, Van Houten's family falls apart, so he turns to the bottle for comfort.

I found the sarcastic attitudes of Hazel, Augustus, and Isaac annoying and tiresome. I felt the same disdain toward Hazel's "hero" who was even worse. I felt sorry for Hazel's parents who were trying to do the best they could for their daughter.

I can sum it up by saying I had a love-hate relationship with this book. I couldn't put it down, but I wanted to shake them and say it IS possible to deal with a difficult situation with humility, dignity, and grace. The scene at the end of the book where Augustus dies brought tears to my eyes; it was almost too much to take.

All I can say is that I hope the movie is not as depressing as the book. I'm not even sure I want to see this film when it comes out. I hope the director chooses to portray the teenagers in a more favorable light and focuses on their more redeeming qualities.

Perhaps there is some truth and significance to the book's title alluding to a line in William Shakespeare's play Julius Caesar. Angry, jealous, and resentful that Caesar is so powerful and so admired by the people, Cassius says to Brutus

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings." (Act 1 Scene 2)

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