Lately I have seen John Green plastered everywhere. Pinterest, people talking about him on Twitter, Facebook, and there is no real mystery why. On June 6th, 2014, the movie The Fault In Our Stars came out. You see, this film is an adaptation of John Green’s fifth published book. It is a story about Hazel Grace Lancaster, a terminally ill cancer patient, and Augustus Waters. The novel is in first person, from Hazel’s point-of-view. Even before I got into the meat and potatoes of the novel, Green impressed me with his ability to write in the voice of a seventeen year old female, what with him being a 30-something male.
This novel easily had the potential to fall into the hoards of others like it. When I was younger I used to read these teen romance novels where the lead female protagonist is diagnosed with leukemia and somehow through the horror of battling this disease she falls in love and miraculously the cancer goes into remission with no death and no unhappiness. I could not tell you what the title of these books were, or even the author, I just remember there being a slew of them that I devoured like chocolate chip cookies. The tropes of each novel were the same, the only things that changed were the names of the girls and boys and the town in which they lived. Every other detail was a repetitive and monotonous recounting of this horrific discovery being turned into a life affirming love. No one ever died. Ever. The Fault In Our Stars could have become another one of these epic and notorious novels that touch upon tragedy, but rather John Green pushed us head first into the deep end and left us to wade through the water to find our own salvation, our own understanding, of what death means. And with that understanding, he pushed us to see what life means.
This is what I wrote after I finished the novel last night:
So I finished the book and it was unbelievably brutal. I bawled like a baby when Dobby died, and this was ten times worse.
After The Fault In Our Stars was released on 6/6/2014, one of those social media news sites (you know the ones, Buzzfeed and the like) had this story about people’s reactions to the movie. A lot of the reactions were this: FUCK YOU JOHN GREEN. When I first saw them I was astonished that so many people were writing it. I knew the story had to be sad; it’s written first-person by a girl with terminal cancer. But I still thought a big old EFF YOU to the author had to be over-blowing it a bit. I know the pain associated with someone you love dying from cancer. In fact, I know it threefold. I even know the pain of seeing someone you love as they go through the bodily and physiological process of dying. One of my hardest life experiences was seeing Dave, my ex’s father, deteriorate in front of me. I knew the pain associated in seeing someone question life and determine he was not worth it, and the ensuing depression, that he was somehow unable to be saved, or to steal from Hazel and Augustus, the two protagonists, what it was like to feel like a side-effect of living and life. Those memories and those feelings definitely flooded me as I read this book, but the end, the end was the hardest part. There is a moment in the book when Hazel and Augustus talk about writing eulogies for each other, but Augustus dies before he can write one to Hazel. He ends up writing this letter to this asshole, alcoholic author that Hazel loves, and the letter itself turns into her eulogy (even though she is alive, and he is the one that dies in the book). To read Augustus’s words… they are painful and insightful and beautiful and truthful and wonderful and horrible and terrific all in one. To anyone who has lost someone to illness, and especially to degenerative illness, not just cancer, they know, they understand. And one of the first things that came out of my mouth after I finished the book was “Fuck you, John Green,” because he did it, he tapped into the immense pain of loss, the immense pain of living, the immense pain of death, the immense pain of the unknown, the void, the universe, and you know what, pain demands to be felt.
This book does a phenomenal job of realizing and mourning the reality that life is dependent upon death, and that death is dependent upon life. How we all strive to leave our mark, to be remembered, but how humanity itself can leave atrocities and scars and lesions upon time and others and things, on the earth, the universe, the void. How sometimes the strongest thing to do is to not chase after being remembered, because oftentimes those who do end up leaving a legacy of negativity behind them, but those who walk with soft perseverance in the face of pain will leave the lasting mark others so wished they had. I think one of the best lines is from Augustus’s eulogy of Hazel, and he says that humanity wants desperate to leave a mark on the universe, but in actuality, we leave scars. But by the end of the eulogy he reveals that scars can be a blessed thing, too, especially if one does not mind having it.
One of my favorite quotes/ideas is when Hazel’s father discusses his beliefs in terms of the unknown, God, reasons why things happen, and he says this: “I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased towards consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed.”
Later in the novel, Hazel comes back to this idea after Augustus has died and she says, “I was thinking about way back in the very beginning in the Literal Heart of Jesus when Gus told us that he feared oblivion, and I told him that he was fearing something universal and inevitable, and how really, the problem is not suffering itself or oblivion itself but the depraved meaninglessness of these things, the absolutely inhuman nihilism of suffering. I thought of my dad telling me that the universe wants to noticed. But what we want is to be noticed by the universe, to have the universe give a shit what happens to us – not the collective idea of sentient life but each of us, as individuals.”
I think that whole idea encompasses the hardest part about humanity, about having consciousness, it is the hardest part about dying, and in turn the hardest part about living. The idea of being remembered, of leaving a mark or a scar on the planes of existence. It is the reason we engage in communication and interaction; the whole idea behind creation and creating. We leave marks everywhere we walk, with whatever we say, and in the end they are scars. But not all scars are bad. And in order to understand that, pain demands to be felt…