Monday, June 09, 2014

Hating on The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars.jpg

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.


Fie upon this quiet life! said...

I just wrote about Fault in Our Stars -- not sure if you read it. But I didn't hate the book. I just thought that it wasn't as well written as his first book, Looking for Alaska. Fault is emotionally impactful, though, and left me sobbing. I think John Green's a great guy, good writer, and is willing to take on taboo topics. That's good. I just wish it had been slightly more believable in terms of the whole Amsterdam thing. It stretches your suspension of disbelief to the way-outer-limits, which was a bit of a struggle for me. That said, it's overall a good book.

Anonymous said...

Oh - I agree with everything you wrote as I lived in (as was not expected to survive) cancer land. Not only did I live in cancer land - my kids did too and it affected them in very different ways. The elder (age 9 at diagnosis) expects that she will get cancer and it looks as though she is right. Based on other information it is likely that she has the dreaded cancer gene. She is waiting to be tested. The younger (age 5) has been severely impacted with anxiety that I underestimated. She has aligned herself with other kids whose parents or siblings are sick with or who have died from cancer and I have listened and at times taken notes from their conversations. When I read TFIOS because the younger put the book in my hands and said this is true I felt like Green had been listening in. Kids who have lived in the land of cancer are too sadly wise beyond their years...

Katie said...

Thank you for this. Long time reader, first time poster. Teacher here also, middle school English, and a transplant from the South to the West. Lots of my students loved the book, then a colleague recommended it. I, too, stayed up late, laughed and cried. The Slate article just sounded huffy and pissy to me. Spare me!

delagar said...

Anonymous -- The anxiety: yes. And yes, the effects you don't come back from.

That's what Green was doing with the book, I think; and I think that's what people who are hating on the book are missing.

They seem to believe he's writing some sort of sick fantasy, a tear-jerker about kids that don't exist, just to make people cry: like it's some cheap trick.

But Cancer Land is a real place, and plenty of us -- plenty of kids -- have been there; live there. Telling the true story of what it's like there matters to us.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'll read it too.

A few years ago I was talked into reading the True Blood books (the first few) and the Twilight series by coworkers and was grateful that they were very fast reads because the writing was astonishingly bad. At least the books were borrowed and not my own dime. How did these two women get so rich on their writing when they couldn't put a decent sentence together? I was fascinated. It made me wonder if I could do it. I started a story of my own and turns out it isn't that easy to write a book (or a series!), even if I think it's done poorly.

So props to those who read fearlessly and who finish books and write them well. That means you!


delagar said...

L -- God, Twilight. And True Blood. I actually read all of the first Twilight novel, because I was thinking of including it in a paper I was working on.

Well, all of it. I skimmed the last quarter. My kid keeps trying to read it, because, as she says, as an adolescent girl she feels she SHOULD love it, but she can't get past the first few chapters. We've raised her to love good writing!

I haven't read much of the True Blood series -- just the first chapter of one of the novels, standing in the bookstore. But Jesus, how do people manage to write that badly?

And how can anyone stand to read much of it?

Molly said...

Hiya! I feel like a lot of people's problem is that they compare it to Looking For Alaska, which I don't really think you can compare and really shouldn't. Fault has it's own purpose and there are a lot of very important topics in it!

Also anyone who wants to argue that YA is insubordinate... My god it annoys me. They should really go back to reading the canons or Shakespeare and allow those who wish to read YA in peace.

For me my main issue, as someone who loved Looking For Alaska and Fault in Our Stars was that I didn't know too much about Mr. Green... Although I do think that a lot of the topics he touches are important it's really cool he does that it upset me so much that all of his books have to follow such a specific and similar plot line. The Fault in our Stars is definitely one of main ones that is an exception to this rule but after I realised how much I disliked him as a person it definitely affected me reading so much, which is so unfortunate!

I've followed you on bloglovin! You're awesome. xx

Molly -

Unknown said...

Hi Kelly, I haven't read it but my daughter loved it. She (and her sister) until recently had picc lines, and we administered IV antibiotics daily for a disease that doesn't officially exist in Australia. She gave up reading some time ago because her neurological symptoms made it too difficult, but she is at an age where she liked the romantic aspect, and was over the moon about characters who were going through some of the same things as her. It made her happy and let her read, there can be little higher praise.
David Stevens

delagar said...

David! Hi! Welcome to the blog!

Yes, that's another reason I like TFIOS. It's not a book about sick kids in the usual sense -- the book doesn't become about the disease. These kids have cancer, but the story is about them.