Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

This was a very touching novel. I used to read books by Lurlene McDaniels. All protagonists grappling with a terminal or potentially terminal illness, usually dying at the end. This was NOTHING like those books. This book was real, it was sarcastic, it was metaphorical, philosophical, and fresh. I actually listened to this book on audio since I could get it faster that way. I'm not always a fan of audio books simply because if you get a bad narrator, you're stuck. And I am a fast reader, so it takes longer to listen. But the narrator for this audio book was absolutely fantastic.

Warnings for future readers (I had these warnings going into it, which did help me and I would want this information as a parent when deciding when my child is mature enough for this book).
There is a sex scene-though not explicit by any stretch of the imagination. There is some swearing-albeit not nearly as much as A Casual Vacancy (which as you may know I could not continue searching for literature doused in explicatives beyond 20 some odd pages).

That said, the characters don't have any strong religious beliefs about post-death existence, so they grapple with the subject philosophically and metaphorically as two very intelligent teens who have had to grow up too fast faced with cancer.

It's always hard to know how to treat people with terminal illness, because everyone doesn't appreciate being treated the same way. However, there was an interview with the author tacked onto the end of the audio book and his sentiment is to treat them as a regular person. This sentiment is shared by Hazel, the protagonist, at a funeral when she hears that the deceased (a peer who was an amputee below the knee due to cancer) was now in heaven and was made whole again and she as a thought something like "As if he wasn't whole before" and how just because he didn't have part of one of his legs did not make him less whole or less of a person. Another scene I remember candidly was that of Hazel being at a mall, I think, and she had lung cancer, so she wears a cannula and drags around an oxygen tank everywhere. In this scene, she is sitting down taking a break and a young girl comes up to her and asks what she's wearing on her face. She tells her it's her cannula that helps her to breathe. The little girl asks to try it, her mother scolds, Hazel says "No, it's ok" and slips it off to fit the little nubbins in the girl who says something like "That tickles!" and then Hazel politely asks for it back because she needs it to breathe. It doesn't help that people will react differently when approached in different ways (how you never know if offering to help someone physically handicapped will be welcomed with a smile or a scathing "I don't NEED help, I am self sufficient!") it does give me courage to at least try to be more candid and "normal" with anyone I come across. That curiosity is not always a bad thing. For me, anyways, asking what something is or what syndrome someone has does not mean I am searching for a box to shove them in a label to apply to their forehead, but a way to relate to their everyday vernacular (or lack thereof) or for me to go home and personally research what goes into the care of such an individual so I can further sympathize or maybe even be able to offer educated help-NOT in the form of advice, but as in, "I know how to do such and such a procedure now, if you want I could give you a break", or I've researched how to monitor someone with Dandy Walker syndrome so that the parents can feel more at ease when going out on a date. Those types of help. One thing I disagreed with was the being 'whole' thing. I don't feel like the sentiment that we'll be made whole after death implies that only certain people were less whole. I believe that we are ALL fractionated. I believe we are ALL broken. That NONE of us are completely "whole". And I don't feel it implies what Hazel feels it implies. But that is based on my belief system and I can respect her reasoning based on her belief system.

One thing is that Hazel is obsessed with finding out what happens to characters in a book she relates to after the main character dies from cancer. I don't think, though, that it's so much that she needs to know about her characters, but her need to know about her OWN life. The characters in HER life story after her life is over. Because she knows she has a finite number of days. She knows she's living on borrowed time and she knows more than we do that her death is inevitable, even though everyone's death is inevitable. She is an only child. She is extremely concerned with her parents welfare after she dies. She doesn't want them to be lost or to divorce because of her death (which, as a adolescent she believes that even though cancer is NOT her fault can't help but feel responsible for sadness caused by her death).

Another thing that is explored is social media and friendship. When a friend dies, Hazel looks on his wall, and she has been a part of this person's daily life for MONTHS and all these people memorialize this person on his wall. People she never met, never heard about, people who never bothered to actually be a part of his actual life but are now suddenly available in death. All these friends who show up when you don't actually need friends anymore. When people we actually care about have their daily life disrupted by illness that take them out of our daily circle of friends, we need to go out of our way to stay in contact. We need to be friends in LIFE. Hazel has exactly one friend in the story who is a "before diagnosis" friend. She is quite superficial, but to her credit, she ALWAYS checks in on a semi-regular basis. In a global community we have no excuse NOT to stay in semi-regular contact with people who matter. Thinking about someone? Wondering how they are doing? Send a quick text. Post to their wall. Send a message. An email. DO something. It's a little "Tuesday's with Morrie" but important nonetheless.

Hazel is fairly convinced that most other cancer survivors are going to out live her. She has friends obsessed with heroism and what it means. They want to DO something, BE something, be REMEMBERED for something. But in fact, sometimes NOT being remembered is being a greater hero because it might mean you've done less harm to the world in general than would happen in pursuit of fame. It was a nice ending thought to ponder upon.

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