March 16, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars - Discussion

For the past few months, I've been part of an international book club-sort of thing (YAckers), along with some other cool people and bloggers. What with my graduation coming up, and the crazy schedule I've been juggling with as of late, I haven't been participating as much as I'd like to. But we read and discussed The Fault in Our Stars and I thought this discussion was particularly interesting, so I'm sharing it here. I've shortened the discussion a bit, but I kept the essence of it and I think the girls make really great points.

Angie opened up discussion like this: "So anyone into TFiOS yet? I'm just really enjoying it so far."

Melissa: So, I picked it up last month, and read it practically in one sitting. Then again, I'm a John Green fan, so it was to be expected.

Angie: Great! Aaron and I are reading it aloud together, and it's been so fun.

Sya: Yeah, I read it a few weeks ago and thought it was his best work yet.

Sabrina: I read it! I agree, none of his previous books were specially great for me, but this... wow. I never cry in books. Until now, apparently. Loved it a lot more than I thought I would.

Donna: I finally started reading it. The voice is phenomenal. The thing is I just recently read CATCH & RELEASE by Blythe Woolston and the set-up is really similar: two teens with the same issue that nearly killed them bond. I'm wondering how similar the two will end up being.

Laura: I'm almost half-way through. God, I freakin' love John Green. And I'm perfectly ok with the teens in this book talking above the level of normal teenagers because in a perfect world (one created by John Green) we'd all have been a hell of a lot smarter at that age. Emily, I know you've read this book and if you don't start talking about it I'm going to round up twenty snotty faced, sticky-handed, incontinent children and BRING THEM TO YOUR STORE.

Donna: If I keep reading these contemporaries with effed up dying teens I'm going end up slitting my wrists. I need something insanely light after the bender of contemps I've been on. Not to say it wasn't good. But holy crap. Like a 48 hour Lifetime marathon. And I liked the voice but it was a bit reaching for the teens. Is this typical of Green? It's the only book of his I've read.

Emily: Ah! Sorry. Ok, first John Green book for me and I loved it! I balled my eyes out and fell in love with the main characters. It's been October since I read it, so let me look at a copy and think of some smarter things to say. Laura keep the snot away from me!

Laura: If by typical of Green do you mean he makes teenagers sound smarter and a lot more interesting than they actually are? Then yes. :) However he really only writes characters that are outside the norm and usually gives a plausible reasons for their intelligence (you know, honors students, graduated early, child prodigy, read a whole hell of a lot). Like I said, perfect world. Go with it Donna...believe....believe...

Donna: Is this where I clap my hands wildly and the book will come alive?

Melissa: I can see the perfect world criticism (?) of Green's work... but I find him incredibly funny so it makes up for that. That said, I like his vlog a whole lot better than I like his books. Oh, and this one wasn't nearly as funny as his last three... which is sad. I missed the humor.

Sya: I'm so glad that everyone is enjoying it - I loved it big time. I think that Green has, in the past, had a tendency to write his protagonist as, well, himself. However, in TFIOS it's as if he's created An Imperial Affliction almost to give his more wildly existentialist philosophies free reign (as well as giving him opportunity to play beautifully with writing and structure). Due to this, Hazel and Augustus actually seem less smart than his previous characters and therefore more believable (although still WAY better than actual teenagers, sadly). I certainly think that Hazel is his most successful protagonist yet.

Emily: Maybe I'm the only one who had this experience, but I have a couple of book clubs with kids very similar to Hazel and Augustus. I mean, I know they were smart, but like Sya said, I felt like they were believable smart. I haven't read his other books, so I have no idea how this books characters stack up against the others, but Hazel and Augustus weren't unbelievable for me. However, the author Peter Van Houten showing up in Hazel's car at the end of the book was really unbelievable for me. And weird. And unnecessary.

Melissa: I think the whole thing with Peter showing up at the end was a bit far-fetched. And kind of weird.

Donna: Agreed. I probably would have maced that guy if I were Hazel.

Sya: Yeah, it did seem a bit weird, but then he WAS a bit weird. You could totally have cut that scene and the book would have been no worse off.

Laura: I get that it was added as a means to explain why Van Houten was the way he was. It was almost as if Green couldn't stand to have a bad guy in one of his books but I was already completely comfortable with accepting that he was just an eccentric jackass just for the sake of being an eccentric jackass. I felt his behavior alone was enough of an explanation and agree that the whole van scene (which was creepy...I kept picturing Richard Dreyfuss as the creepy child molesting teacher turned mailman on Weeds) could have been left out- "it" the proverbial all-encompassing "it" wasn't about him and his background wasn't necessary. But boy did I love this book. It's impossible to not love they way John Green (and I like to believe he puts himself into his books too) sees the world through the eyes of his characters. I've fallen completely in love with his skill with language and turn of phrase. This is possibly the most depressing book I've ever read and I bawled my eyes out the entire time. But even while I had ugly snotty face, -I- was not depressed. It's almost impossible to be when Green continues to subtly maintain a sense that life, even when in a completely shit time, is just so damn interesting and marvelous and I loved his realistic approach to "the bigger picture". My copy of this book is covered in dogears and tear splotches. There might be some snot in there too.

Melissa: I'll be the heartless bastard, heret: I didn't cry. Not a bit. Not even tiny drop. I figured 1) it was a book about cancer, someone will die and 2) it would be very typical and somewhat cliche to have it be -- spoiler -- Augustus. So, I expected that. That said, I agree with you, Laura, about John's view of the "bigger picture." One of the things I've always liked about him is his philosophical view of life and the afterlife, and I thought that came through pretty strongly in this one. The best thing for me when reading TFiOS (even though it's not my favorite John Green; Paper Towns is, followed closely by Katherines), is that I thought he got philosophical and reflective without being pretentious. He attempted the former in Looking for Alaska, and it just came off as snotty and pretentious. This time, I felt like it was more genuine.

Sya : I totally agree - he's managed to pull of a novel that explores pretty deep existentialist themes without appearing to talk down to or patronise his readers. It definitely works far better here than in Looking for Alaska.

Laura: I have Paper Towns! I forgot about Paper Towns! I will read Paper Towns!

Sya: I struggled with Paper Towns the first time I read it. I really didn't like the female character. But then I realised how clever clever CLEVER Green is and wrote about it HERE (if you wish to see why).

Melissa: Ah, I can see how Margo would be off-putting. And I went back to my review; interestingly enough, I said that Katherines was my favorite. But I think what you discovered, Sya, is what I felt: there's genius in that book, and it's the one that has stayed with me the longest.

Sabrina: I need to show up here more often! This discussion was very insightful. I totally agree with the crazy author in the van part--completely unnecessary. And I did not see the Augustus dying coming, I thought he was just there to make her time left meaningful, like any other cancer story. So yes, I bawled. Paper Towns was good, but it had like a huge whole in the middle...

Angie: I just keep thinking about the ending. And how Green is so good at them in general. I remember when I first discovered him, I read about his obsession with last words and all the famous last words people have uttered over the years. Somehow that has to have played into his comprehensive understanding of how to end a story. Because it's always the right way. Even after ups and downs and various characterizations and explorations of thought and meaning and the universe, his endings impress the hell out of me. They're quiet and personal, which make the stories quiet and personal. Which is what endear them to me. This one may be my favorite of his, though I quote the end of Looking for Alaska to myself often, when I'm at the part of my day or week when I need to be reminded of something real and good. But I felt closer to Hazel (and actually Augustus, too) than I have to his other protags, and so I think that's why his last words (literally) and hers (narratively) struck such a chord.

Donna: I kept expecting this one to end like the fictional title in the story which escapes me at the moment. Something with affliction in it? That it would just end abruptly because Hazel was going to die. It was a shock that Augustus died because I kept expecting it to be her and while I felt the ending was abrupt, it didn't feel unfinished. I'd still like to know whether she survived. Or not. But I guess that's the point.

Sabrina: I did too! Although as soon as I thought it I went straight to the last page and saw I was wrong, but that would've been cool...

Melissa: I never thought Hazel would die. Partially because, up front, Green states (or has Hazel state) that he loathes cancer books, and how all cancer sufferers need to be made out into heroes or victims. So, I figured he wouldn't kill off his main character. But, since it's a realistic cancer book, someone had to die, and Augustus was the most likely candidate. Sounds callous, but it didn't shock me. Move me, yes. But not shock me. I liked what you have to say, Angie, about Green and endings. There was this line in his story from Let It Snow, I think, where he had his character say there is no happy endings, only happy middles (or something like that). I think his books are somewhat the same way.

Angie: Oh, that's nice Melissa. Happy middles. I really am glad he decided to write Hazel. I wondered how it would go when he did try a more substantive girl (and first person, etc) and I really liked how it went.

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