There is a sneaky little trend in bookstores today, and it concerns what are called “crossover” books—books that may have the designation of pre-teen or teen but are actually read by the “adult” population as well. Some of this happens naturally when a teen reads something he or she thinks is really cool and wants to share the experience with a parent. Other times, there is an enormous amount of publicity surrounding the publication because of its subject matter or the rumor that a movie will surely be made—instant interest in our social media-driven world. In a recent post, I shared my experience of reading Wonder by R. J. Palacio, noting that I am most certainly a grownup and that this book is categorized as pre-teen.
With The Fault in Our Stars, mostly all of the reasons cited above apply. It received a lot of publicity since the author is a well-known teen writer; it had huge word of mouth among teens; AND, there is a movie due out this year! Wow–a trifecta of cool. The Fault in Our Stars, written by John Green, has my highest recommendation for all ages who can comprehend the subject matter, which is how young people deal with cancer and what the consequences of living with this hideous disease are.
Hazel Grace Lancaster (16) and Augustus Waters (17) meet at Cancer Kid Support Group which Hazel describes as “…depressing as hell. It met every Wednesday in the basement of a stone-walled Episcopal church shaped like a cross. We all sat in a circle right in the middle of the cross…where the heart of Jesus would have been.” Each person would give his or her name, age, diagnosis and current status: Hazel has thyroid cancer with “a long-settled colony in my lungs” and is somewhat self-conscious because of having to lug around an oxygen tank (named Philip). She has to breathe through a cannula, a sort of tube which goes into her nose. Augustus, new to the group, states that he had “a touch of osteocarcinoma a year and a half ago.” Augustus is also very good looking (“hot”) and will not stop staring at Hazel, though she is secretly pleased to be on the receiving end of such attention. Hazel has been drowning in depression, staying mostly at home, obsessively reading the same book, An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten, and hopes that making this new friendship will help to lighten her somber mood. Teenage years are usually stressful for most kids, but to be saddled with a probable fatal disease surrounded by others in similar circumstances does not make for cheerful times.
After Hazel insists that Augustus read the Van Houten book, he manages to contact the author and receives a response. Hazel then writes, saying in part, “…as a three-year survivor of Stage IV thyroid cancer, I can tell you that you got everything right in your book Imperial Affliction. Or at least you got me right. Your book has a way of telling me what I’m feeling before I even feel it.”
Augustus decides that Hazel needs to meet her favorite author who lives in Amsterdam, so he “cashes in” his deferred wish from a foundation that helps sick children realize their fantasies and proposes to take Hazel to meet Van Houten–with her mother along, too, of course. There is adventure and romance on their trip to Holland, but let’s just say that the much anticipated meeting with the great author doesn’t go well, so for the teens, there is disappointment but also acceptance that while what we wish for doesn’t always come to pass, there is always, always hope.
The author, John Green, has written several teen (or YA) books, and one of the reasons for his incredible success is that he gets the teen voice exactly right. He doesn’t coddle his characters or make them seem braver or more saintly than they really are—he is truthful and never lets the subject become too maudlin. The fact is, teens do get cancer—some of them die, but some of them defy the odds and live with remission for long periods of time. Green, in the afternotes, says: “I was so tired of the idea that suffering is heroic, and that cancer strengthens you and makes you better…also, I didn’t want Gus and Hazel to be this Pure As The Driven Snow, Never Loved Before couple…I wanted them to be…just regular nice smart people, who also happen to have a chronic illness.”
The subject matter is daunting, but this YA book is one of the most touching and romantic books I have recently read. I encourage you to meet Gus and Hazel–you’ll be glad you did.
Would you consider reading a YA book? Why or why not?