The Fault In Our Stars– John Green’s lastest novel, seems to be taking the world by storm. What are our Australian teachers saying about it? Does it have applications in the classroom? Could it be a valuable addition to your classroom library and your own ‘to read’ pile?
Rohan Clifford, secondary English teacher and avid reader, shares his opinion…
Spoiler Alert: The Price of Dawn is Blood.
When you get your hands on a copy of John Green’s new book The Fault in our Stars, check inside the cover. Green personally autographed the first 150 000 copies (the entire first print run), at least that’s what Wikipedia has to say on the matter (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Green_(author)). Since Green’s 2005 acclaimed debut novel Looking for Alaska, and the subsequent An Abundance of Katherines and Paper Towns, Green has collaborated on 3 more books and released short stories for various compendiums, as well as a great deal of on-line and interactive material. This, despite having possibly the worst hand cramp in history. Or possibly, Wikipedia is wrong.
Which is possible, because not everything can be plain sailing in an infinite universe. You just have to take your chances. That’s the credo of the characters in Green’s new novel, existing as they do in a universe seemingly oblivious to their suffering. A universe, which allows the young and promising to die from horrible and dehumanising cancers, and leaving the living scarred.
Unlike many cancer stories, Green’s novel looks at the view from within courtesy of a support group, meeting regularly in a church splayed out in the shape of a cross. This is where sixteen year old, parentally-adored and terminal (no spoiler) Hazel, meets survivor Augustus through mutual friend and fellow resident of Cancervania, Isaac. Amidst all the seeming fragility of what becomes known as survivor’s group, there is a blunt acceptance of the above-mentioned credo. The view from inside the universe of potentially terminal disease, as you would expect, is full of fear and desperation, but also acceptance and coping. From outside that world, we might call it bravery. Inside, you don’t have the choice of bravery, so it is just how you get on with it. Or how you don’t.
There’s an edge to the voice of Green’s characters that is confronting. They’re tough. They yell from the page like a short-changed New York Cabbie, even though the story is set in Indiana. And that’s even when they’re not yelling. The dialogue in The Fault in our Stars is at times cynical and quick-fire, hinting, perhaps at ways of coping with the obscene brutality of cancer.
I didn’t tell him that my diagnosis came just three months after I got my first period. Like: Congratulations! You’re a woman. Now die.
Hazel continues to exist, largely thanks to a range of hospital equipment and medication, including a portable oxygen tank because, as she admits, her lungs suck at being lungs. All the while Hazel struggles to draw breath, she nourishes us readers with some impressive observations:
There is only one thing in this world shi**ier than biting it from cancer when you’re sixteen, and that’s having a kid who bites it from cancer.
Observations, which reveal the world-view of a sensitive soul in a ghastly, insensitive universe. But it’s not all cannulas and treatment, gradual dismemberment and slow suffocation.
On the outskirts of Cancervania, parents have their own survival methods, forcing themselves to cope with the daily terror of losing their once blossoming children to the destruction of their own cells. Some manage by embracing positive affirmations, over time emblazoning them across cushions, placemats, bed spreads until entire households become museums of absurd positivity. (My parents call them encouragements, explains Augustus).
Some are stoic. Some are comically hopeless, crying at the mention of death, or at the mention of anything that might lead to the mention of death. Some are absent, others, very much, are present.
In Green’s novel, there is love, and of course there is loss. There is much, much humour and teenage angst. There is diminution and there is growth, the reduction and destruction of beautiful human beings and their glorious, gorgeous evolution. There is the same constant search for meaning, uniting the dying with the living, the blamed with the blameless. Underpinning all of this, there is the very human question of why or how this could happen.
Answers are found in the writing of Hazel’s revered and reclusive Dutch author Peter Van Houten, who has written just one novel An Imperial Affliction, the closest thing Hazel has ever had to a bible (Pain demands to be felt, says Van Houten). It is when she reluctantly shares her devotion to this book with Augustus (who returns the favour by introducing Hazel to The Price of Dawn and it’s triple digit zombie-death count) that the sparks of attraction are kindled. The ensuing romance, acknowledged by both parties as inherently star-crossed and quite possibly futile is funny, uplifting, perhaps even death-defying.
He sighed, exhaling for so long that to my crap lungs it seemed like he was bragging.
The Fault in our Stars is not about dealing with cancer or about cancer per se. It is about how brilliantly well these smart and truly tangible characters react and cope with what an infinite universe has dealt them and how we can identify ourselves as the bumbling, well-meaning idiots who live somewhere outside Cancervania.
There is not meaning to be found in these stars. But there is meaning to be made.
Rohan Clifford M. Ed.
Senior English- Manor Lakes P-12 College Wyndham Vale, Vic.