John Green: killing me softly with his words
Okay, now, I know what you are thinking. We are a scant 29 days into the new year, and I am already declaring The Fault in Our Stars as Best New Read? Well, my friends, it is just that good.
Oh, this book…this book! On Friday night I went to see a movie by myself (more on seeing movies alone another day, as it’s one of the things on my list) and although it was good, the whole time I was there I just kept thinking about how much I wanted to be reading this book. So when I got home, I continued, even though it was late, and by the stroke of 1:00 am I was lying in bed sobbing my eyes out. I don’t want to spoiler it too much for you in case you read it (and you should!) but suffice to say that this book destroyed me.
When we left off, of course, Hazel and Augustus were about to start out on their journey to Amsterdam to meet the elusive Peter Van Houten and finally learn more about the ending of An Imperial Affliction. All I will say is that the trip does not go exactly as planned, but that it is nevertheless an amazing experience for both of them. The second half of the book is less focused on the bloom of first love, because there is some pretty heavy shizz that goes down, but there are still plenty of swoony moments. There is one passage about love that I would like to share with you:
“I’m in love with you,” he said quietly.
“Augustus,” I said.
“I am,” he said. He was staring at me, and I could see the corners of his eyes crinkling. “I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.”
“Augustus,” I said again, not knowing what else to say. It felt like everything was rising up in me, like I was drowning in this weirdly painful joy, but I couldn’t say it back. I couldn’t say anything back. I just looked at him and let him look at me until he nodded, lips pursed, and turned away, placing the side of his head against the window.
You guys, I think John Green really nailed it here. I have tried a few times, unsuccessfully, to explain what it feels like to fall in love. Everyone (i.e. TV shows, Hollywood movies, Harlequin romance novels) seems to treat it as this magical experience that is filled with joy and ecstasy and doves being released to the heavens — but in my view, more often that not, falling in love is actually a kind of painful experience. Not exactly painful in a bad way — it’s amazing, and thrilling, of course — but essentially you spend a few months walking around feeling like you’re going to throw up most of the time. Love is basically the most pleasurable illness in the world. Few would choose not to have it, but it is an affliction nonetheless. So when I read the line “It felt like everything was rising up in me, like I was drowning in this weirdly painful joy” I think I actually jumped up and exclaimed “Yes!! John Green, you are a genius!” Because that was exactly how I felt the first time a boy ever told me that he loved me. I was sixteen, and his name was Ben, and it was simultaneously one of the best and most terrifying experiences of my life up to that point. I felt vulnerable, and exposed, like my skin had literally been turned inside out. Which sounds super gross, but it was also amazing…and terrible, and great, all at the same time. Love is weird.
Anyway, it is very difficult to write about love without sounding cheesy or resorting to lame clichés, but John Green navigates the subject skillfully, treating it with a perfect balance of humour and gravitas. Even though the relationship between Augustus and Hazel intensifies quickly, it really rings true. Another thing that struck me about the book is that Green is able to write convincingly from the point of view of a 16-year old girl, which is rare for a male author. This is his first novel featuring a female protagonist, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I liked this character even more than the (male) main characters in his other books.
Before I wrap this up, I must mention Hazel’s parents, especially her dad who is possibly the awesomest book dad ever. I would imagine that having a terminally ill kid would be one of the most difficult, heartbreaking experiences that anyone ever has to go through, and Hazel’s parents are bastions of strength and good humour. I really like this little passage in which the three of them are watching an America’s Next Top Model marathon (Hazel is addicted to bad reality TV):
Finally, we watched ANTM. Dad tried really hard not to die of boredom, and he kept messing up which girl was which, saying, “We like her?”
“No, no. We revile Anastasia. We like Antonia, the other blonde,” Mom explained.
“They’re all tall and horrible,” Dad responded. “Forgive me for failing to tell the difference.”
In conclusion: although this book made me cry quite uncontrollably, and was very sad in parts, I do not for one second regret having read it. I feel fortunate that it came into my life, unexpectedly, when it did. I grew quite attached to it in a short period of time, which surprised me because that is not usually my style with books. And even though it may have ended, I suspect that I will be thinking about it for a long time to come.