If like me you are dancing around in excitement about ‘The Fault in Our Stars,’ hitting cinemas in June, then you are in for a treat. Young-adult writer, YouTube Star, voice of a generation John Green has just announced an international fan event that will see the film shown all over the globe on May 10th 2014, a whole month before international release. Screenings will be taking place in the UK with one each in London, Manchester and Glasgow and we are ALL invited. Instructions on how to enter the draw are available on Facebook so look it up quick!
‘The Fault in our Stars,’ was quoted in ‘Intelligent Life,’ this month as sounding more like a peace keeping force than a book amongst its hard-core fans who refer to it as TFIOS. This is because Green’s novel leaves readers thinking that the shattered world we all live in can only be put back together if every other living human being has read this book. My husband will vouch that two days after reading this book I fell into a deep depression because all I wanted was to read this book again for the first time.
I’m sitting at the computer tapping my pen trying to work out why John Green’s writing is so appealing to me. Yes there’s the snappy dialogue, tidy aphorisms, awesome metaphors such as Gus’s cigarette metaphor, sarcasm, decisive wit, appealing self-deprecation, comic verbosity and the refusal to shelter his readers from ugly truths. But I think the real appeal comes in the way he handles the subject of difficult adolescence. Like Green I have suffered with anxiety and depression since I was teenager and maybe this is why I have such an affinity with his writing. Reading his work I sometimes feel as if Green is taking sentences right out of my head. If I was 36 I would in fact be convinced that we were probably twins adopted out to families on opposite sides of the world.
The appeal of Green is that he writes for the kids who had awkward beginning because they just weren’t like the other kids around them. Key to his success is also his genuine interest in young people. Green is a thirty-six year old teenager always lacing his sentences with sarcasm, razor-sharp wit and appealing self-deprecation. He has a framed poster at home in the style of the ‘Keep calm and Carry On’ style that says ‘Keep Calm and DFTBA’, which stands for Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.’ He would like to ‘Increase awesome and decrease world suck,’ so he and his brother Hank Green launched a website for kids called ‘Nerdfighters,’ which looks very like a real community that hasn’t yet been ruined by the media. Their regular videoblogs now have over two million followers worldwide.
For anybody who has seen the film trailer for TFIOS, but has not read the book I would like to stress that this is not some kind of cheesy teenage love story. After much pestering my husband read the book and to my delight fell in love with it too. He even went on to read Green’s ‘Looking for Alaska,’ which I would also recommend highly. TFIOS is a smart, clever, emotional, adult novel. It’s just that teenagers found it first and claimed it as their own in astonishing numbers. Two years after it was written it was still number one on Amazon in both America and Britain.
I would also like to stress this is not a ‘Cancer book,’ in the way you might think it is. ‘Cancer books suck,’ says sixteen year old narrator Hazel Grace Lancaster. ‘Like in cancer books, the cancer person starts a charity that raises money to fight cancer, right? And this commitment to charity reminds the cancer person of the essential goodness of humanity and makes him/her feel loved and encouraged because s/he will leave a cancer-curing legacy.’ Hazel is far too smart to fob us off with any of this kind of clichéd crap. This is because she has a favourite book An Imperial Affliction, and in that book the main character Anna ‘decides that being a person with cancer who starts a cancer charity is a bit narcissistic, so she starts a charity called the Anna Foundation for People with Cancer Who Want to Cure Cholera.’ A bad joke but you get the idea: ‘ Cancer is a side effect of the process of dying, as is almost everything really.’
This attitude does not make Hazel a likely romantic heroine. However one Wednesday at support group she meets seventeen year old Augustus Waters. He had a ‘little touch of osteosarcoma a year and a half ago, and half of his leg had to be amputated, but he’s fine now. And the only reason he’s coming to the meeting is to support a friend who will in a month, have both eyes removed.’
Gus isn’t put off by the tubes in Hazel’s nose or the oxygen tank she drags around with her. To him she’s ‘a millennial Natalie Portman. Like V for Vendetta’s Natalie Portman.’ To her he has a PhD from the department of ‘crooked smiles’ and the department of ‘having a voice that made my skin feel like skin.’
Love doesn’t come quickly for Hazel and Gus. Like most ‘real’ relationships their is a lot of uncertainty, especially given his romantic past and her terminal condition. So they talk a lot about Margritte, Zeno’s tortoise paradox, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. They make jokes about their friends in the world of the professionally ill: ‘I’ve gotten really hot since you went blind.’ I also personally loved the comical way they come together through the exchange of their favourite books. Hazel gives Gus ‘An Imperial Affliction’ and he gives her ‘The Price of Dawn.’ This reminded me of the genesis of mine and my husbands own relationship. I gave him ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’, ‘Brideshead Revisited,’ and ‘The Great Gatsby,’ and he gave me Terry Prattchet and Ian Banks. Not quite as bad as Gus I know, but still funny.
When at last they do open up to each other their romance is epic. ‘The Odyssey’ was the first great romantic epic and is driven entirely by the male experience and voice. Green inverted the genre by writing a tragic romance about a sick woman who is also a strong female lead. A long the way he slips in lines that are sure to make the novel a classic such as ‘You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do get a choice in who hurts you.’
I am deliberately not saying too much about the plot of this novel so as not to destroy the magic for anyone who has not already read TFIOS. But you will laugh hard and cry hard. I can’t think of another author who makes me snort with laughter in the way John Green does.
The novel’s title inverts Cassius’s line from Julius Caesar: ‘The fault dear Brutus, is not in the stars/But in ourselves.’ In this case the fault is with neither Hazel or Gus but with the cruel fate, which brings them together only to rip them asunder.
This book is also a quest novel, wherein Hazel and Gus track down the mysterious but formidable Peter Van Houten, author of Imperial Affliction, who hasn’t been heard of since moving to Amsterdam after the novel was published. Gus takes Hazel to Amsterdam to find out what happened to Anna after the novel ends. When we learn that An Imperial Affliction is actually a fictional account of Van Houten’s daughter we see the embittered mean-spirited drunk from a more sympathetic point of view. I am really looking forward to seeing William Defoe bring this character to life in the film version of the novel. Peter Van Houten becomes the living embodiment of Hazel’s greatest fear that her parents will be so distraught by her death that they will not be able to go on.
There is just under two months until the international release of TFIOS film. Do yourself a favour and read the book before you see the film. Like ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ I am sure the film will be an adequate adaptation, but like Matthew Quick’s novel the book gives you so much more.