1. Mckk
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    The Fault in Our Stars

    Discussion in 'Book Discussion' started by Mckk, Sep 12, 2014.

    Decided to start one myself after the discussion over at "Explain a book badly" :D @Link the Writer @daemon

    So, a bad review of the book, as supplied by daemon, claims:
    And Daemon - you mentioned that the ending is open to interpretation. I actually didn't read it that way - when the book ended, I just thought it ended. I didn't think there was anything to interpret.

    Anyway, thoughts, people?
     
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  2. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    The ending is supposed to be both a Tragedy and a Comedy - in the classical understanding of those words. 'I do' meaning the girl will die, but also saying 'I do' as in a marriage too. It doesn't really work, completely, I must admit (neither Comedy or Tragedy really work quite that way) but I do rather like the book. It is very obvious to me Hazel dies, she did have cancer.

    For YA fiction it's excellent, considering the bar for this sort of thing is now so low it's around the magma level of the earth. And I like John Green a lot too, he's a good guy. The book is very popular in Amsterdam, being sold everywhere in English, for obvious reasons.
     
  3. Mckk
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    How does saying "I do" mean she's going to die? For some reason I never thought she died, although it would make sense. I remember now - the ending was written by Gus, so how's his saying "I do" mean Hazel dies?

    I must be really dumb but I don't get why it's being sold in English in Amsterdam... :D
     
  4. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Wasn't the ending Hazel reading a letter from Augustus, asking her if she is happy with the life she has lead or something? I didn't think Gus wrote the ending - it isn't how I remember it at all. I thought it was obvious she died because everyone in the novel who has cancer dies from it, and she is very very sick by the end - it's the only logical thing I guess.

    And in Holland, English is a second language. People in Amsterdam at the very least tend to speak English extremely well. There are a lot of English books sold in Amsterdam.
     
  5. Mckk
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    No, it wasn't - Gus wrote the letter to the alcoholic author, which the author took pains to have it delivered back to Hazel herself. The ending was Gus saying that life is about taking chances and allowing life to hurt you, and that you can choose whom you allow to break your heart, and for him, it was Hazel. And "I like my chances. I do", I think is how it ends. I'm not sure where you got Hazel dying from this.

    It's also not true that everyone with cancer dies. Isaac I think was his name - the blind kid - he doesn't die. He just goes blind.

    Hazel herself was no sicker than she was at the beginning of the book, actually. She had trouble breathing in Amsterdam only because of the excessive stairs. Certainly the book didn't present her as being particularly sick. She was tireder and sleepier than normal in Amsterdam, but that was it, and to be honest her sickness wasn't highlighted at all after Gus's cancer was revealed.
     
  6. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    You sure?

    [​IMG]

    That is the last page of the novel in my edition. I've taken the image from a google image search, same text.

    You might be right that the ending was left open to interpretation, but still ... in my mind the carried on narrative was that Hazel died.
     
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  7. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Thanks for starting it, @Mckk !

    That said, I'm not sure if the final few phrases implied that Hazel died. As far as we knew, her treatments were keeping her cancer in check, and barring the rush to the hospital and the struggle to climb up the excessive stairs, she seemed to get around just fine. When Augustus' cancer came back, it was coming back in a mighty surge, too much for him to fight back and control properly. Had her cancer gotten worse, she'd have told us through narration.

    I interpreted it to mean that Hazel was proud to have loved such a man, a man who cared about her, put her needs above us, and wasn't some selfish, egotistical prick like Van Houten was. He loved her so much that he actually wished she'd died before he did so he wouldn't have had to break her heart by saying his cancer had returned, and she loved him for that.

    The only thing I can say that I didn't like about the book was the kiss in the Anne Frank house. I mean, seriously, this is a memorial to a girl who died in the Holocaust, why would they decide to have their first kiss in there of all places? I get that Anne herself probably wouldn't have cared (as she certainly kissed a few crushes a time or two, I'm sure) and John Green did mention that one of the things he hated was how we create idols and statues and forget the real human being behind it all. Still...really? And the Dutch in the memorial clapped at this?
     
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  8. daemon
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    Reading fiction is an exercise in imagination. The words are merely a prompt to encourage the reader to get onboard a train of thought. The reader decides where this train goes. As a reader, I make that decision based on what I enjoy thinking about. The joy is not in the words themselves, but in the thought processes inspired by the words.

    When I say the ending of The Fault in Our Stars is open to interpretation, I do not mean the reader is supposed to decide whether or not Hazel dies before the end of the novel. The novel ends with her words, which she cannot write, say, or think if she is dead. Instead, I mean anything that happens to Hazel after the ending (after she finishes writing) is purely a product of the reader's imagination because there is nothing in the book to indicate what happens.

    I find it most interesting to imagine that "I do, Augustus. I do." are her last words. Those are some powerful last words. But more than that, it gives me the strongest sense of closure and catharsis. She finds what she was searching for. Gus tells her what he wanted her to know. There is nothing left for her to do as far as that relationship goes. She is satisfied with her decision. And while there is no such thing as a peaceful death from cancer (the book beats the reader over the head with that statement, and not necessarily in a bad way), I feel like that is as close as she can get to resting in peace. Plus, I have a very clear mental picture of what her room looks like, and in my experience of imagining the story, I feel most at home when she is alone in her room. The hypothetical scene where she dies after reading the email plays out clearly and vividly in my mind and it gives me a "dying in my own bed instead of some strange place" kind of feeling. That is strangely comforting. There is no comfort in death itself, but there is comfort in the deathbed.

    It also fits nicely with my perception of the progression of the mood through the story. The mood progresses like an evening. Hazel and Gus figuratively meet in the late afternoon. As time goes on, things become more intense and more beautiful. Hazel and Gus get to know each other better, they go to Amsterdam, they have a romantic dinner, they kiss in the Anne Frank house, and they have sex. Likewise, the colors of the sky change: the blues darken, the light tends toward gold/orange, and the clouds become pink and/or have silver linings. Then Gus suddenly announces that his cancer has returned and he is dying. Likewise, the sun sets -- all that vibrant color suddenly turns to blue and gray. From there, things just get darker and colder. Hazel dying after reading the email is like dusk.

    In terms of the craft of writing, the ending is amazing. I care about the ending of a fictional story. I have a special place in my heart for stories that end on a climax rather than needlessly trying to wrap themselves up by showing where the characters go after the climax. In The Fault in Our Stars, the email is the climax. And what a climax it is. It is such a conclusive and cathartic payoff to the emotional investment I made in the preceding hundreds of pages that I feel like the whole novel is primarily a vessel designed to deliver the ending to the reader. (Which is a good thing -- I also think of my WIP as primarily a beautiful ending and a long build-up to that ending.)

    Speaking of my WIP, the reason I read The Fault in Our Stars was to learn. Its success surprised me -- it is a young adult book about ordinary people who suffer from a miserable condition they cannot escape, and it captivated an enormous and extremely dedicated audience in an era when young adults have been reading about wizard school, vampire romance, and violent totalitarian dystopia. (Which is not meant to disparage those books, just to say that John Green has been bucking the trend.) My WIP is also about an ordinary person who suffers from an inescapable curse, and the reaction to The Fault in Our Stars is the kind of reaction to my WIP that I can only envision in my wildest dreams, not only because of how many people have read The Fault in Our Stars, but also because of how they reacted to it, how it moved them.

    And it did not disappoint. I learned a lot about how to write a successful novel in that niche genre. And of course I enjoyed reading it.
     
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  9. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    @Mckk, you were right about that letter. Late last night, brain was not working properly. I got myself confused haha.

    Hazel's death works for the catharsis for the ending, as @daemon I think rightly points out there is am effort to have in the novel. In the mode of a Tragedy. One thing John Green is is a Shakespeare fan - where do you think the title comes from?
     
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  10. Mckk
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    @Lemex - I did not know it was from Shakespeare. Seriously? I am in love with that title - it's so poetic but more than that, I feel it sums up the book so beautifully, with all its tragedy and wry humour and, well, beauty. It's the perfect title to the book. When I finished the book I thought back to the title and it took on a new meaning for me. I guess that's when you know you've got a good title.

    I'd actually forgotten that the "I do" part was spoken by Hazel - I only realised now thanks to your picture. All this is actually making me want to reread the entire book.

    @Link the Writer - interesting point about kissing at the Anne Frank house. But then again, if one of Green's concerns is that people create statues and idols for themselves and forget the human beings behind them, then I think kissing at the Anne Frank house is perfectly symbolic and fitting for his beliefs. Why should we honour the dead so much - even a holocaust victim - at the expense of the living? Isn't Hazel and Gus's relationship - aren't their lives, their living, breathing beings at this very moment - the more important thing? Anne Frank is precious and her memory should be honoured, but to be honest, every human being's memory should be honoured. Anne Frank is not special. If by virtue of living through the holocaust made her extra special, then we should remember plenty more victims, only we don't. I'm saying - Anne Frank is special, but only as special as every other living human being. Now of course, I'm comparing Anne Frank, a real human, to fictional people, Hazel and Gus, but the whole thing is symbolic. It's saying, whatever memory there is for the dead, the living is more important, their moment is more important, and we must not forget the living and that living moment in favour of remembering the dead. Dwelling on the past instead of living to the fullest.

    If we are to remember Anne Frank as fully human that she was, then we would put no special meaning to the fact that Gus and Hazel kissed at her house. Like you say, why would an ordinary little girl mind this? Perhaps in having Gus and Hazel kiss in Anne's house, John Green in fact remembers, rather than forgets, Anne Frank's humanity, as well as Gus's and Hazel's.

    However, I agree with you the Dutch clapping as a little over done :D

    For myself, I didn't enjoy Van Houten's part in Amsterdam - I thought that was all a little unnecessarily harsh, rude, and didn't make a lot of sense to me. Perhaps someone could explain to me what there is to appreciate in that particular part.

    @daemon - I think Fault in Our Stars is the perfect book to illustrate just what teenagers are capable of - the depth they're capable of, the depth they're thirsting for. I find the idea that YA must be simple and the more complex ideas of death and meaning are not fit for YA to be erroneous. We underestimate just what teenagers are capable of, and what kinda material they're really looking for.

    The book moved me because it made me think of death, of the injustice of it all, of the pointlessness of death. How death is always pointless, always comes at the wrong time. Death is wrong - it's in its essence an anomaly in life. Based on my own Christian beliefs, death is a curse. I've thankfully never experienced cancer, nor have any of my loved ones, so I knew nothing of cancer before I read this book. One thing that really struck me was this - how Gus's family, even though they were trying to honour him and love him, actually ended up dishonouring his desires, doing all the things he hated but he had no strength to object. He was utterly helpless and his family reduced him to something that was not himself - reduced him from Gus to something of a child without his own will. And that fierce helplessness shook me - because he could do nothing about it. And why Hazel moved me, because in the way she treated him, I could see she understood him perfectly and she alone honoured him, by allowing him to be exactly the man he has always been, and still is, even in that moment when he's trapped within his own pain and his dying body.

    Oh my word I want to cry just writing this... That book must've hit me so deep lol.
     
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  11. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Yeah, it's from Julius Caesar, I forget the act and scene, but it's Cassius talking to Brutus about the plan to assassinate Caesar.

    'The fault, Brutus, is in our stars'.

    I actually don't mind the fact they kissed in, then had sex after visiting the Anne Frank house. In a way, Anne Frank's memory became a message they should 'seize the day, do not think about the next one'.
     
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  12. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Good words about the kissing scene. You're right, it was supposed to be symbolic, as a way of humanizing Anne Frank and the protagonists; I was just thrown off kilt a bit when I looked at it initially. :D But yeah, she would've thought the kissing was cute, then recorded it in her diary.

    About Van Houten? Well, I think he always had a nasty personality; had the air of superiority and assumption that anyone who didn't get his viewpoints were stupid little cretins with 'golf ball-sized tumors in their brains'. His alcoholism just made it worst. Ever heard the stories about people who meet their idol only to learn the man/woman behind the glamor was not what was first imagined? For example, on TV, Bill Nye seems like a pretty upstanding nice guy where in real life, he's a bit of a dick with a 'holier than thou' outlook. It's the same principal here.

    What's to appreciate? Well, going back to Augustus's letter, Houten had basically used his personal tragedy as an excuse to be a miserable, pathetic sack of shit who isn't happy unless everyone is suffering right along with him. He had a choice in how to respond to the big crap life dumped on him, and being a self-pitying asshole was his decision. I'm honestly surprise his assistant hadn't murdered him by now. After Hazel and Augustus left the house and she went after them, I thought she had killed him and was trying to cover her tracks. xD It lasted for only a moment, but that was my gut reaction.

    But any rate, it's like what you said with people constructing idols of real people. Hazel had spent up to this point constructing an imaginary view of Houten, a Houten that had never existed. By showing us who Houten really was, Green was giving Houten back a little bit of his own humanity. Since this happened just before the Anne Frank House scene, I think Green was introducing us to that lesson a bit earlier than we'd thought. The lesson he was trying to impart was that for good or ill, we are all humans and if people construct false idols/ideas of us, they rob us of our own humanity.
     
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  13. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Aw hell, I misremembered the quote. Something about it was niggling me so I looked it up. It's from act one scene 2, as the conspiracy against Caesar is just starting to form (Julius Caeser is a play that really doesn't mess about, Caeser actually dies really early in it for a Shakespeare tragedy *spoiler alert*). It is thus:

    With the title John Green has reversed the 'fault', it is not the character's fault like it was for Brutus and Cassius (if you can call being a subservient to fate a 'fault'), it is in Hazel's and Gus's higher aspirations - or god - or life itself. This is serving to not only inform the subject - as any good title does, but also hint at the blending of Comedy and Tragedy that Green was going for.

    Since the title is a quotation from a Tragedy, and it is reversed, might this mean Hazel actually lives?
     
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  14. Mckk
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    I do get that there's something gently and wryly humorous about the title, except I don't get why. I didn't know about the Shakespeare quote, and yet I still understood a sense of subtle comedy about it - well, wryness, rather.

    Well I guess the whole point of the fault being in our stars is that this whole thing is out of their power. It's not their choice, and never was. It's just life, fate. And to a certain extent you could read it as a "fault" that Hazel lives on, and you could read it as a "fault" that she dies. Either way, there's irony in it somehow. A vibrant teenager like Hazel shouldn't die, not at that age. But at the same time living on without Gus feels somehow... incomplete. The way life goes on - it almost feels wrong. It's dark comedy - the guy who had 80% chance of living died, while the girl who shouldn't have lived passed the age of 13 is still alive. It's a fault - it doesn't make sense.

    You know, one of the lines that struck me was when Hazel said: "Funerals, after all, are for the living."

    Seriously, this guy's a genius.
     
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  15. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    I suppose I could see a sort of dark humour in the book, yeah, a lot of the comments in the book - and then I suppose the title, is very ironic in a bitter way. I hadn't actually thought about it in those terms, Comedy in the sense I've been using it refers to a play that is a celebration.

    It might sound strange to modern people, but Comedy in the sense of Attic drama didn't necessarily need to be funny, but uplifting. While Tragedy was supposed to deal with a purging (Kathasis - Catharsis) of negative emotions. The hero would often be the problem, and the end would set things aright, like say Macbeth - who kills King Duncan and then nature seems to go insane as a reaction to Macbeth's act until his wife goes crazy and he dies in combat.

    We sympathize with Macbeth, and his death is both deserved and shows the pitilessness of the universe. We need to sympathize with the tragic hero for the catharsis to work, and in Green's novel it's all the more emotive because unlike someone like Macbeth who may have had the choice to ignore his problem, Hazel and Gus do not - it's inside them, and killing them, but it is not a hamartia like with Macbeth. I guess that makes it more tragic to modern audiences. The hamartia in more modern drama may not matter in this sense, but there is a 'flaw' or a 'fault' and the characters have to suffer and then die in a way that creates pathos and then catharsis.

    Comedy instead started with a silly problem and ended with a marriage, like say in Midsummer Night's Dream where four young teenaged scamps run off to the woods to get out of marriages they do not want and end up falling in love with each other after a story about fairies and drugs and people turning into donkeys because why the hell not? Actually, a lot of ancient Comedy is pretty much a P.G. Wodehouse story, just to show how little some things have changed.

    Comedy is really awkward for me to write about because not a lot of complete Comedies survive, and even less classical criticism survives either, so we don't have a very exact understanding of how people might have seen it then. It's theorized that in comedy there are three 'worlds' (maybe better thought of as periods) that the characters must traverse in order to resolve the initial issue: the world where the problem comes from, the 'green' world where things are less structured and the characters can experiment, and the resulting world where the changes the characters make bloom into a resolution - often a happy marriage. The point is the ending must be a resolution and celebration of life, in a joyful, hedonistic, Dionysian sort of way.

    If you can apply both of these to The Fault in our Stars then I imagine you are making John Green smile; and well done, you are learning about literary criticism. How do you feel? :)
     
  16. Mckk
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    @Lemex - lol how do I feel? I don't think I've exercised my academic brain muscles since university (about 5 years ago) lol. I don't actually know what a hamartia is, nor what Dionysion is :)

    I suppose the ending is a celebration of life - Gus's letter proves it, how in the end, there're no regrets. That his life was lived and though it was short, it was a life well-lived. It was a life which he thought, at first, had to be great and impact the world and by the end he's discovered that actually, it's enough to impact one girl's world, and being great doesn't mean being a hero. It was an ending that spelt victory, rather than defeat, and the only tragedy in it is really for Hazel - that she lives on without him. The tragedy rests in the fact that the reader can see the potential the relationship could've had, the good it could've been, all the beauty that should've been. But actually, Gus found what he was looking for before he died, and it was a celebration. In so doing, he gave Hazel hope.

    Her "I do" is her confirmation - "I regret nothing." There is power and bravery in the choice - that conscious, deliberate choice to have your heart broken. It's about loving with abandon as much as anything, and that by the end, you're more complete than you could ever have been had your heart not been broken.

    In that sense, if comedy doesn't have to be funny (but c'mon, that book was frigging hilarious - it taught me just how powerful comedy is, because without the comedy, without the wry humour, the book wouldn't have been half as powerful), then I suppose that ending fits into the requirements for it to be a comedy.

    Tragedy the book clearly is, comedy I feel it obviously is, too. However, it is only now when you speak about comedy not necessarily having to be funny but rather that it must be uplifting that I realise just how uplifting that ending is. And yet I can't help but cry like a baby reading that thing. When I finished I put the book down and I just went to my husband and said, "Give me a hug." The darling dropped everything he was doing and came and I cried in his arms lol. So yeah, thinking of the ending as uplifting was not my first thought - but it actually kinda is. The tears I shed were nameless - it wasn't because of the ending. Perhaps even the fact that the book ended gave me a sense of finality - that it's over, in more than one sense of the word. Death is final and there is no more, and so the end of the book felt symbolic of that. Perhaps my reaction - on a subconscious level - was towards that interpretation you had of Hazel dying. I have no idea. But now I think about it, perhaps I cried because the book finished and in that sense, Hazel's life is also over - literally.
     
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  17. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Hamartia means essentially a flaw of character. Take Macbeth again, his Hamartia is being completely dominated by his ambitious and heartless wife, and having the arrogance to think the witches were right he could be King, if they were also right about him being Thane of Cordor and Glamis (I think that was where he was originally thane of anyway). Dionysian - I was using it in a rather Nietzsche sense I must admit, it is thought Comedy the genre came from one of the original cults to the god Dionysus (the god of wine, madness, music and ritual) where young people would run off to the woods to have sex and get drunk, and have a big hedonistic orgy as a form of catharsis. Ancient Greek drama like Sophocles and Aeschylus was originally preformed at the annual rituals to Dionysus in Athens.

    John Green himself made a CrashCourse episode on Sophocles's play Oedipus Tyrannus, or Oedipus Rex on YouTube, and I urge you to check it out. :)

    Wonderful! :) That, exactly that, is catharsis. This purging shows Green's novel was successful. :) I do agree, that ending is fantastic. All of this shows just how clever John Green is. Who says YA fiction is just simple entertainment?

    Edit: here is CrashCourse if anyone wants to check it out:

     
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  18. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    @Lemex - would I understand the video if I have no idea what Oedipus is?

    I agree the novel is brilliant, although somehow I feel the word "brilliant" is the wrong word. It's so raw with emotion that when I think of the book, all I can do is feel it. I don't really have just one word. I don't feel that it was "brilliant" so much as I find it honest, naked, daring. John Green is treading on a very sensitive topic and allowing all that pain to pour onto paper. It's a very honest portrayal of all that John Green thought of cancer, death, dying, life and love - and perhaps that's why it moved so many people.
     
  19. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Yeah, CrashCourse is good for that. Green goes through the story (and story around the story) and tells you all about the most relevant comments and criticism on it to have a good understanding of the play. :) You'll not have to read the play to watch the video and understand it.

    I agree there.
     
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  20. Chiv
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    We have a name for the genre of this book in my Literature class. "Teen Cancer". Bleh. I don't think I could ever read one. I have two reasons. 1) I'm an ex-cancer patient, and it's too close to me (same reason I didn't watch My Sister's Keeper), even though I joke about it all the time, the idea of reading or watching that just makes me uncomfortable; and 2) Romance through sickness. Bleh. I dislike romance enough as it is.
     
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  21. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I can understand that. It'd be like someone writing a teen novel that romanticizes disabilities and acts like it's what makes that person a hottie. I don't know if I'd feel comfortable with that, as I'm a disabled person. Obviously having cancer versus having a disability are two totally different things, but I get what you're saying. It feels as if it's trivializing the sickness. I've heard that this movie (as well as the book) had a tendency to fall into the same clichés it mocked.
     
  22. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    That's a common criticism of the book, that I've heard. That it romanticizes a horrible illness. I've not heard Green defending himself on this, but to be honest it's such an impassioned area, whatever he says will be taken badly by some bloody fool.

    I don't think it's a fair criticism, but I do see how people can say that.
     
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  23. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have also heard the term "sick lit", which encompasses teen cancer in addition to other illnesses, including mental illnesses.
     
  24. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Never having been sick with cancer myself, I have no idea if the book romanticises cancer - there are simply things I do not think of, nor feel. For me, since I have no understanding of what it's like to go through cancer, the book is educational. I guess for the one who has suffered the illness, that might come as a bit of a joke because likely the novel will not be terribly accurate. Still, it is more knowledge than I had before.

    I would be interested in the perspective of one who has been sick, and their interpretation of the book. That would be quite insightful.

    So @Link the Writer, @Lemex - how does the book romantcise cancer and use cliches? I've not read any reviews so I don't know.
     
  25. Chiv
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    Chiv Active Member

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    I might have to read the book now :p
     
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