I’ve been sitting on this post for about seven months. In fact, about 1,500 words of it had been completed before I ever opened a new document and started writing what you’re reading right now. I just couldn’t bring myself to finish writing a review about The Fault in Our Stars because it was too personal for me.
I’ll back up and talk about two separate things that made this such an intimate experience for me. There are going to be spoilers below for this book; most will only be thematic concepts, character names, and the general idea of what the book is about. I will put all significant plot spoilers in rot13 later in this piece so that you won’t have to be spoiled. Thank you!
Cancer’s been a part of my life for a while. I’ve lost all of my aunts but two (I had a lot of them on my mother’s side) to cancer. I lost my father to brain cancer, as well as Alzheimer’s and lung cancer. My mother has survived cancer twice, and is permanently disabled because of this experience. For at least fifteen years, cancer has always been in my life in some way or another. I remember being unable to understand the concept of it when I was younger. Why couldn’t you just remove it? Why couldn’t you just take medicine to make it go away? I swear to y’all, it wasn’t until I took biology in high school that I truly understood what cancer was. Seriously! That’s mostly because I just saw the effects of cancer. I saw the pain, the surgeries, the chemo, the drugs, and the sheer unhappiness that it brought my family. I saw how poor it made us. I know it seems ridiculous to say this, but that’s distracting. I didn’t want to learn the biological logistics of how cancer worked. I wanted it out of my family.
My initial draft had this long, depressing chronicle of how cancer tore my family apart for years, but I decided that it was an exercise in loathing that I didn’t want to share. It didn’t feel right because, as miserable as it was, my mother is alive. I did lose my father, and it still hurts, but I had my mother here. It felt like I wasn’t truly appreciating what it is that The Fault in Our Stars did for me: it gave me hope about the end. It reminded me that people die, but some people are able to fight back. My own mother fought back, and she fought back hard. So why was I going to talk about the misery and ignore the fact that my mother made it? Hell, even though it was difficult and painful to lose my father, he was happy to go. He believed his time was up. He accepted his mortality completely, and I shouldn’t forget that.
But there’s another reason I loved this book so much that has almost nothing to do with what’s actually in the pages. I had a wonderful experience actually acquiring the book that made the book rather special for me. I had just recently been laid off from my full-time job at Globworld, so I took advantage of my newfound amount of free time to head on down to Redwood City for John Green’s event around the release of The Fault in Our Stars. I met up with a Tumblr friend of mine, and then later met a wonderful young woman who was also a reader of mine, and I became friends with her, too. I had never seen the Vlogbrothers live, and I’d also never participated in an event around a book signing.
We got our copies of TFiOS a couple hours before the event started, and even though I told myself that I shouldn’t read in that sort of environment, I opened the book. I started reading. Then I closed the book and resolved to not do that so I could be social. But then my new friends both started reading, and then I couldn’t stop. And then the line was moving and I was that guy who held things up because I wasn’t paying attention because I loved Hazel so much and it had only been forty pages. And by the time everyone was brought into the Fox Theatre and things got underway, I was a third of the way through the novel. And then by the time it came for the signing, I’d started reading again.
Like, okay, you have to understand how weird it is for me to read without stopping. Most of what I read these days is for Mark Reads, so I read a chapter, and then I stop, usually for a couple hours at a time before I continue to the next chapter. I just recently finished China Mieville’s Bas-Lag trilogy for the first time, and let me tell you, it was beautiful to be able to read 250 pages in one go. I forgot what that was like! And this is important for two reasons I’m about to tell you.
1) By the time it was my row’s turn to walk up to the stage and get my book signed, I had just gotten to the scene where Unmry naq Nhthfghf neevir ng Crgre Ina Ubhgra’f ubhfr naq qvfpbire ur vf gur jbefg uhzna orvat va gur jbeyq. So, imagine that you read this, you are incredibly upset, and then you’re about to meet the author of this very book and you can’t ignore the BIZARRE REAL-LIFE PARALLELS THAT ARE HAPPENING AT THE EXACT SAME TIME. What if John Green WAS EXACTLY THE SAME? He wasn’t, and he told me that he loved Mark Reads Looking For Alaska and everything was puppies. (I actually got to speak with him at LeakyCon and he was even more pleasant than the last time!)
2) After the signing was over, we hung around for a bit before heading for the CalTrain back up to the city. When you’re reading The Fault in Our Stars, gur varivgnoyr vf nyjnlf whfg evtug nebhaq gur pbeare. Lbh xabj vg’f tbvat gb unccra, fb vg’f whfg n jnvgvat tnzr hagvy vg qbrf. Fb V gubhtug gb zlfrys, “Znlor lbh fubhyq fgbc ernqvat guvf obbx va choyvp? Yvxr, znlor lbh fubhyq jnvg gb svavfu vg. Guvf vf cebonoyl n tbbq vqrn.” Bs pbhefr, V pbzcyrgryl vtaberq guvf naq svavfurq gur erfg bs gur obbx va whfg nebhaq 45 zvahgrf. V pbhyqa’g fgbc VG JNF FB TBBQ NAQ V ARRQRQ GB XABJ JUNG GUR NYGREANGR RAQVAT JNF. Ohg jura V tbg gb gung ynfg cntr naq Wbua Terra chapurq zr evtug va gur srryvatf, V frevbhfyl qvq abg jnag gb or va choyvp. Vg jnf fvzvyne gb zl rkcrevrapr jvgu gung BAR rcvfbqr bs Ohssl gur Inzcver Fynlre va frnfba 6. Fhqqrayl, zbegnyvgl jnf zber erny guna vg unq orra va n ybat gvzr. V jnf tbvat gb qvr. Zl zbgure jbhyq qvr, naq fb jbhyq zl sevraqf, naq zl gjva oebgure, naq bar qnl, vs V bhgyvirq zbfg bs gurz, V’q unir gb qrny jvgu gurz.
Vg’f bar bs GSvBF’f zbfg oevyyvnag npuvrirzragf: Terra nqqerffrf qrngu urnq-ba guebhtu Unmry, naq juvyr vg vf vzzrafryl hapbzsbegnoyr naq cnvashy ng gvzrf gb fcrnx fb bcrayl nobhg vg, vg raqf hc orvat pbzsbegvat.
Admittedly, I haven’t talked much about the book itself, and I want to save that for the comments so I can use rot13 to speak openly about the spoilers, but here are two last points I want to make.
1) Green’s often criticized for writing characters who are too witty and too smart. And I’m not here to convince those folks who feel this way that they’re wrong! I’m just here to say that Hazel and Augustus work for me. Same with Issac. They remind me of the few friends I had growing up. They remind me of some of the friends I have now, who are all nerdy, geeky, and talk like they do. And it’s the dynamic between the three of them that fascinates me so much. That’s especially the case with Augustus and Hazel, who are painfully awkward at times, bitter at others, and joyous and silly most of the time. It’s a romance that works because Green never ignores the characters’ individual personality.
2) This book is inherently about disabled folks falling in love, having sex, and living their lives. Their disability is acknowledged, and their disability isn’t everything at the same time. One of my best friends said she has never read a sex scene between two disabled people in a mainstream book in her entire life. That’s not to say John Green got everything 100% perfect all of the time, but it meant a lot to me to read it, too.
ALL RIGHT, LET’S HAVE AN ROT13 FEST IN THE COMMENTS. Did you like the book? Who else wanted to play Counterinsurgance 2: The Price of Dawn?
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