I am not a teenager (I am a happily married 43 year old mom of two children aged 11 and 9), I do not have cancer or really know anyone closely with that awful disease and I do not particularly want to read sad and emotionally draining books when I have enough other stuff going on in my life. So, what made me pick up your book “The Fault in our Stars”? It really all started with Jane Austen.
I am a lover of Jane Austen, have been since my late teens when I finally decided to pick up “Pride and Prejudice”. I fell in love with P&P and subsequently read all of Austen’s work, loving P&P and Persuasion most (apparently I am a sucker for second chances). Last year around the end of April my love for Jane Austen lead me to a new adaptation of P&P: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries which I totally fell in love with. You can guess where this is going, right? The LBD in time lead me to Hank Green but I did not follow the Hank Green lead for a long while. Then at the beginning of this year, the LBD lead me to a YouTube video of Ashley Clements (Lizzie from The LBD) and Daniel Vincent Gordh (Darcy from The LBD) reading from a book on stage. It was a scene about a teenage couple walking through the Anne Frank House and kissing each other. That held my attention for reasons other than Ashley and Daniel. I’ll come to why that was the case later. The Anne Frank House scene reading lead me to the Vlogbrothers and in getting to know more about the Vlogbrothers I finally discovered you, John Green, and your book “The Fault in our Stars”. I find that the scene in the Anne Frank House is a scene from your book! Over the years I have found many treasures following serendipitous trails like these and this really is my latest treasure find…
As I mentioned at the beginning of my letter I resisted reading the book. I have had a difficult past year and wasn’t looking to add to my sadness by reading a sad book. But the book was beckoning for many reasons: from what I have seen of the Vlogbrothers, I really like you; I also really like Anne Frank; I wonder how the couple in the book ended up kissing in the Anne Frank House; I’m intrigued to see how an American sees Amsterdam; I like a really good love story. My cursor hovered over the Amazon shopping basket button several times but I chickened out each time because I did not want sadness. Then last week I walked into a book store and the book was lying there, right in front of me, begging to be bought. It was like the universe conspired against me and made me pick up that book. And so I did. And I bought it. And I went to our little holiday cottage (where we were staying) to read it. And I could not stop reading as I was sucked in from the first chapter.
What was it that resonated so for me? First of all it was the character of Hazel. She doesn’t want pity and she doesn’t want to leave a mess once she departs this world, she just wants to be. She believes that a life well-lived outside of the spotlight is just as worthy as the life of a well known hero. Everyone counts! It made me identify with a struggle within myself. I remember distinctly that when I was 15 I was crying in the arms of my eldest sister, lamenting the fact that I would never be famous, I would never do great deeds, I would never be a grand hero because I am just not that kind of person. I am not someone who is “out there”, I am not someone with exceptional talents, and now as I grow older I realize I do not have to be. I can make a small difference in the world around me, be good for others, care for others like I do and always have done, and that is enough. It is freeing to find a heroine of a book not seeing herself as a heroine, genuinely not wanting to be a heroine, not even being described in heroic terms, yet she is one. Deep down we all are heroes and maybe, just maybe, in a small way, so am I.
What also really resonated was witnessing the deterioration of a loved one. I am going through that now with my old father who has Parkinson’s disease and is suffering from an onset of dementia. Last year he collapsed at home and since then he has been in a nursing home. He can not live at home anymore and never will again. Of course, this is very different from cancer, but the feeling of helplessness; the pain of seeing someone you love being able to do less and less; the stripping away of everything in their being until they will only become the shadow of what they once were; the fear and pain of losing them; the inevitability of it all: I could identify with that.
Then there was the Anne Frank connection. I read the Anne Frank diary in my early teens, it inspired me to keep my own diary. I have read many many books about her and have been to the Anne Frank House several times. I loved how this book reminds us of the fact that she was just a normal teenager. The kissing scene reiterated the parallels between Hazel, suffering in silence, and Anne, suffering in silence, yet both trying their best to be happy. Anne was a girl and not a monument to be pitied and stared at, just like Hazel.
I was intrigued by the way you describe Amsterdam. While yes, the canals are beautiful, I have never thought of Amsterdam in the romantic way you do and it warms me, makes me think I need to walk through Amsterdam again and try to see it the way you do.
And on top of all of this, I loved the humor in the book, I loved the layers of meaning, the symbolism, the way it is very sad sometimes (yes, I cried several times) but never asks for pity. We learn to live with whatever fate throws at us and make the best of it. And yes, I am also a sucker for a good love story, so that helped too. It is easy to fall in love with Augustus, and with Hazel.
So, thank you. Thank you for this book. I will definitely go back and read it again. Not because of the sadness and because it could make me cry, but because of the no nonsense approach, the idea that we all are heroes, the humor, the warmth, and, gosh, I really do need to get to the bottom of all those layers in the book!
So now, just like 25 years ago when I discovered Jane Austen, I find I have discovered another author I want to read more of! I will go on a new quest to discover your other writings. I think I may start with “Looking for Alaska”…
Yours sincerely and with gratitude,