Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Fault Is With Me


The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

Well. Hmm. I wanted to like this book better than I did. (Sound familiar?) And that makes me feel guilty because it's incredibly popular. I shouldn't feel bad about that by now. I mean, book taste is like musical taste. It's all about what you like and only you get to decide what that is. In this case, my 11+ years of teaching are completely standing in the way of me liking anything teenagery.  Case in point: John Green's YA novel, The Fault in Our Stars.

Here's the problem. Ever since the movie Juno, I feel like we're enamored with this idea that teenagers are these witty, irreverent little geniuses who see the world more clearly than adults do. Maybe that's because in these pretend YA worlds, the adults are too busy doing things like work and paying bills to notice anything profound. But here's the problem with that: kids don't all go around talking like miniature Aaron Sorkins. They just don't, not even the really smart ones. And honestly, when they do get it into their heads to go all Ellen Page-y, it's... how do I say this delicately... well, it's kind of rude and not really very funny. The witty quips that read so well on screen are often ill-timed and downright off-putting in the real context of a classroom, which is where I most often encounter this kind of weird trying-to-showboat that stands in the way of real and honest conversation.

So to me, most characterization of teens in this vein read to me like adults speaking through kids. It reads like the way we wished we talked in high school. Because when real kids try to do it, they lack the knowledge of the world (or literature, or politics, or poetry, or whatever) that you would have to have to sling this kind of intellectual speak mixed with airy pop culture references. Don't get me wrong. I like kids. I like my job a lot. But I think the reality of spending so much time with the under-18 set has precluded me from enjoying a fictionalized version too much in my reading.

So anyway, the book. The Fault In Our Stars is about a girl, Hazel, who has terminal cancer. She meets a bone cancer survivor, Augustus, in a support group for teenagers. They fall in love, he inspires her to look at things differently, and they both have to come to terms with the realities of their cancer. It's alternately funny and very sad, and what I think I liked best about it was the author's attempt to normalize (for lack of a better term) a disease that is very, very hard for teenagers to talk about. The characters in the book talk about cancer and death the same way they talk about everything else. And I feel like there's something good in that--mixing the witty with the hard to talk about.

This was a quick read, though, and I can say I'm happy I've read it. I think that it just wasn't a good fit for me, content-wise, and that I should probably stay away from anything about schools or teens in the near future. I think I'm hyper-critical, which isn't really a good thing.

My recommendation: You should read it. You'll probably love it and think I'm crazy.

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