Last year, my kid read John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and immediately compelled me to read it also.
Usually, with books we share, this process goes the other way around -- I like a book, and wheedle (or force) her into reading it.
I had discovered John Green first, in fact, via Will Grayson, Will Grayson, a book he had written with David Levithan, and urged her to read it, along with a couple of others of his; but she really hadn't liked many of his books very much until this one.
But this one: she stayed up late reading it, and she dumped the book into my hands when she was done. "Read this," she commanded.
I did. Like her, I read it straight through, unable to quit. Like her, I loved it. Like her, I've been anticipating the movie madly.
So -- like her -- I'm a little taken aback at the internet hate for the book and the movie.
Unsurprisingly, the hate seems to be coming from those who haven't read the book, and seems to fall into two camps: those who think YA literature is intellectually inferior to "real" literature; and those who think the novel is inferior because it concerns cancer patients.
Actual comment I read today: "The fault in out stars seems like a movie made for people who don't have enough actual sadness and cancer in their lives."
And that is, more or less, the tenor of those who are complaining about the cancer aspect of the book -- that Green should not have written it, or the book should not have been made, or people should not be enjoying it, because it's somehow, I don't know, exploiting cancer suffering.
Here's the thing. None of those people complaining about the exploitation of cancer and cancer patients in this book or this film actually seem to be cancer patients, or to know those who have had cancer. As someone who had thyroid cancer -- just like Hazel, though mine was not as lethal as hers -- I have two words for this lot: y'all can fuck right off.
John Green, who wrote the book, worked with kids who had cancer. That's what moved him to write the book: his understanding of what it was like to be those kids. And this book captures what it is like to be on the other side of the cancer divide (to be in Cancer Land, as I used to think of it) better than anything I have ever read.
Cancer Land is not a heart-warming topos where you find Jesus or feel enlightened. It's not a Hallmark movie land. It's a bleak and empty landscape, a place way past fear, and you're alone there, except for other people who are on that side of the divide with you. No one else knows Cancer Land.
I was lucky (which will seem an odd word only to those who haven't lived in Cancer Land) to be there with a friend of mine, who was diagnosed with malignant melanoma a week after I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
We would call each other up at three a.m. (you don't sleep in Cancer Land) and talk until dawn, four or five nights a week. There was no one else on the planet we could talk to.
Almost all of these conversations we spent laughing hysterically. Because frankly, everything is funny in Cancer Land. But I promise you, none of the jokes we told would have seemed funny to you. Dark humor doesn't even begin to touch it.
Well, I lived. So did she -- that's another thing, how many people survive Cancer Land. But it was a horrible, world-altering journey; it changed my understanding of life entirely.
Green's novel captures this, how the journey through Cancer Land will alter you, better than any other book I've read on the subject.
The Fault in Our Stars is great on the bleak, black humor those living in Cancer Land share; it captures the scoured calm that lies past fear; it captures the anger, too, because despite that calm there is still anger, though often you just don't have enough fucks left to express it. (Resignation, this gets called, but that's just too benign a word for it.)
Is The Fault in Our Stars a perfect novel? No. Probably yes, the kids are a bit too clever for adolescents, their dialogue a bit too sharp.
But it's very good at what it does -- giving you an inside look at Cancer Land.
Which is a land, trust me, you'd really rather never visit.