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February 23, 2012 / schulerbooks

Schuler Spotlight: The Fault in Our Stars

“AIA (An Imperial Affliction) is about this girl named Anna (who narrates the story) and her one eyed mom, who is a professional gardener obsessed with tulips, and they have a normal lower-middle-class life in a little central California town until Anna gets this rare blood cancer.

But, it’s not a cancer book, because cancer books suck.”

– Hazel

Whoever was in charge of designing the jacket for John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars should have just taken quotes littered throughout the book like this one to describe it to potential readers.

Reading through this new young adult book, dealing with some of the heavy issues surrounding the world of children with terminal illness, you get a sense that people have been rude to them. Not in any sort of obvious overt way, more in the “stare at them because you hardly ever encounter people like this before” sort of way. But they don’t feel sorry for themselves, for what they want or who they want to become.

John Green has created a story much like main character Hazel’s favorite book,  An Imperial Affliction (which I doubt is coincidence). Being a 16-year-old ‘side effect of life’ — Hazel’s words, not mine –she is prepared for the inevitable reality that she does not have a whole lot of time left to enjoy what little comforts she finds in day to day life. Then comes the boy — a cock-sure, perpetually happy and motivating force named Augustus. He too has had his run in with cancer and after an amputation, appears to have beaten the disease. Maybe it’s coincidence that Hazel’s cancer resides in her lungs (doubt it again) but Augustus is the breath of fresh air that she continually struggles to inhale.

Coincidentally, if you’re familiar with the normal arc of a romantic plot, where one person doesn’t want to hurt the other, but falls in love anyhow, you know the general outline for the rest of the story. What you aren’t ready for is how genuinely heart-felt the relationship becomes. The positivity of Augustus is downright infectious. His character is defined by the acts of charity and good will he gifts unto others, going so far as to use his own “Make A Wish” not for benefit of himself, but for someone that he finds more deserving.

By the end of the story, there is sadness. There is no realistic way to avoid it, and to do so would be to cheapen the entire experience. The sense of loss, the weight of it, for people who know nothing but loss, feels like it could be a topic that completely suffocates a plot-line. Cleverly, Green uses that potential suffocation as a tool to show us light in a vast sea of darkness. After all, loss is not without its lessons, and in the case of a group of people who search and search for any light no matter the depth of their own personal darkness, the light shines brightest of all.

If you find yourself reading in between the lines here Green’s words are quite clear: People are not who they appear to be. For better or worse they are so much more complicated than all of that. That phrasing seems over-dramatic, but in real life — and let’s be honest, in the book world — you cannot judge a book by its cover. As obvious as that theme is (and I can hear the collective sarcasm of, no kidding, really?) it is something that anyone who reads this book can gravitate towards and understand.

The Fault In Our Stars, as a side-effect of who its intended audience may be, is full of themes that are as easy to comprehend and grasp. That is not to say that it’s uninteresting or boring to behold, in fact it becomes quite the opposite. Hazel’s story, like the one she refers, turns out not to be about cancer after all. Just people being people, making decisions each day to allow the world in instead of trying desperately to keep it at bay.

I found myself — an unbeliever in the hype that surrounded this book as it hit shelves — wrapped up in the story within the first 10 pages. I was happy to forget that what I was doing was letting my eyes scan back and forth over printed words arranged into paragraphs. Instead I saw the characters come to life, I sighed at their setbacks and smiled at their triumphs. In short: The world around me melted away for a few hours and I made a few good friends.

 

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