As a longtime avid consumer of storytelling, I’ve slowly put together a mental list of writers who have made me cry longer and harder than I would care to admit: Patrick Ness, Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, Joss Whedon. Now, granted, I cry pretty easily, but as far as I’m concerned a writer’s ability to bring me to tears speaks to their ability to make me care about their characters. I sometimes think that reading or engaging in narrative of any kind brings on a sort of temporary lunacy in me; how else can you explain getting hysterical over someone or something that doesn’t actually exist?
I started thinking about all this crying gobbledie gook after I watched the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer a couple nights ago after a year-long binge of the entire series in chronological order. It was one of those things where I was unsure whether I wanted people there for emotional support or not, and now that that trauma is over I can honestly say I am so happy I was home alone, because the word “crying” doesn’t adequately describe the sounds that were coming out of me. Point being, sometimes I wonder whether I want to knight these tear-jerking writers for making me love their characters so much and sometimes I want to sue them for emotional damages. Now, after reading The Fault in Our Stars, John Green has made his way onto my STOP MAKING ME CRY, YOU JERK list.
Hazel was thirteen years old when she was diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer, and fourteen years old when a miracle drug dragged her from her death bed. Two years later she is stuck in a rut of depression (a “side effect of dying”) when her parents force her to go to a cancer kid support group where she meets an Adonis with a prosthetic leg, Augustus. They develop an existentially fraught relationship that juggles the meaning of life, mortality, and making out.
OK, so obviously this book is going to be sad. Every single teenager and other variant of human being on this earth has read it and exclaimed over tears and hurt hearts, you know it’s going to make you reach for the tissues. I mean, it’s a book about two teenagers with cancer, so melancholy and the infinite sadness is basically a given. However, what is so dazzlingly spectacular about this book is that it is simultaneously really, really sad and really, really hilarious. John Green, who already has one Printz under his belt for Looking for Alaska,tackles this incredibly difficult subject matter with his trademark snark and wit tempered with a sensitivity toward and understanding of the prolonged tragedy that is cancer,which is quite a god damn accomplishment if you ask me. Example:
I didn’t tell him that the diagnosis came three months after I got my first period. Like: Congratulations! You’re a woman. Now die. (24)
After I read that sentence the first time I had to pause and ask myself, “Did I really just laugh out loud about a teenage girl recounting her cancer diagnosis at the age of thirteen? Yes. Yes I did.” (Also, yes, I did just include the page number. I tried really hard not to, but I am an English major librarian. You’re lucky I’m not including an MLA style citation at the end of this.) The fact that John Green can examine what could have ONLY been an insanely depressing topic with his trademark brand of intellectual humor is what sets this book apart from just your standard tear-jerker cancer story, and is also demonstrative of his ridiculous skill as a writer. I just want to high five him while simultaneously wiping my tears on his jacket for the rest of eternity.
All humor aside, though, this IS a tear-jerker. I can honestly say that I have never cried so much for a book that did not involve an animal death. The thing that is so gut-wrenching about this one is just how long the sadness hangs on; I can honestly say that there were about 150 pages of reading time characterized by intermittent weeping punctuated with moments of choking sobs. It kind of felt like a reflection, in miniature, of the kind of prolonged suffering that people go through when they watch someone they love dying of cancer, which unfortunately seems like a near-universal quality of the human experience. It just goes on. And on. And on.
The main issue I guess I had with this book was the somewhat unrealistic dialogue between the main characters, because not only do teenagers not generally talk like that, neither do real people. Haha! That was totally not what I meant to say. I meant to say “adults” don’t really talk like that either, but I love that I subconsciously implied that teenagers aren’t real people so I am leaving that little Freudian slip. Anywho, I wish I had the kind of wit that just about every single character in a John Green novel has, but it takes me about half an hour to come up with a funny, biting retort to throw into a conversation. I know maybe three people in my entire life that are capable of that kind of lightning-quick hilarity, but whatever. I’d rather read something unrealistic that errs on the side of hilarious than…well, I don’t know. Than almost every other kind of dialogue out there. Oh, and the whole Van Houten coming back for the funeral (whose funeral? READ THE DAMN BOOK) was pretty contrived, but whatever. John Green has accomplished something pretty god damn mighty in making a book about star-crossed, cancer riddled teenagers falling in love fly off the shelf for YEARS now, so I can forgive him just about anything at this point.
So, bottom line: this book is stellar and heartbreaking and thought-provoking and just about everything good I can say about a book. It will make you cry, it will make you laugh, and it will probably make you question the nature of your existence on this earth. Just don’t make the mistake of finishing it on the bus like I did. That was really embarrassing.
Music! That’s easy. “The Size of Our Love” by Sleater-Kinney. “Our love is the size of the tumors inside us.” I know that this song is probably a “metaphor” for “something else,” but I don’t care. It’s a perfect fit. And, I know I know, I have almost exclusively chosen songs by Sleater-Kinney and Mirah for my soundtrack accompaniments, but you’ll just have to deal, dear readers.
Where I got it: The library