The Fault in Our Stars Part 1: The Fault in Young Love

I’m glad my daughter’s boyfriend is boy enough that he didn’t want to see The Fault in Our Stars with her! That meant I got to! My girls and I had read the book together, and we were curious how close this movie would adhere to John Green’s Young Adult novel by the same name. We weren’t disappointed.

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-photo Wiki Images

And, we can be fairly critical customers of story—in any form.

Note: Spoiler Alert! In this and posts to come, I may reveal major plot lines and story themes.

For a guy who claims to not have lived with anyone with a life-threatening illness, author John Green gets into the emotional machinations that define the youth-cancer see-saw pretty well: the grief, denial, anger, angst, humor and grit. Perhaps his work as a junior high teacher and ministerial intern in hospitals gave him in-depth insight into what young people experience at these junctures in their lives.

While much of how the movie unfolds is expected, it contains just the right amount of humor, drama, and real-life cancer images for its target audience: young people. Having grown up in a “cancer-pocket” outside of Niagara Falls and Love Canal, I recall the all-too-familiar improbable pathos of too many young people facing young love and cancer all in the same space of their too-fragile lives.

For me, the movie was a long-overdue catharsis.

While my story differs from the movie, I found myself at one time the object of a young man’s unexpected affections and dying wish to have me as his girlfriend, instead of the acquaintance I thought I was. I was too young and afraid to reciprocate. I just didn’t have those feelings for him. I still feel the flaming ball in my stomach when I think about the note I read where he explained he needed me before he died. So as he lay dying, I ran and hid, and yet by some miracle he survived.

How much more unfair could life be than when youthful desires and death run an unwanted collision course?

We like to say life is unfair. It’s this unfairness, the pathos and the struggle that give rise to story. Story helps those suffering make sense of their suffering and move with it. Not against it. But with it. In the end, story is what lives on for survivors. Story gives life and meaning to the life of those who have passed on in one way and to those who survive in another. In the end, story is all we have—passed on our breath from one to another.

As I thought about my youthful brush with young love, rejection, disappointment–and cancer–I can say—from a critical vantage point—that the movie only touched lightly on the ways in which people don’t live up to your expectations –even when you are dying. As harsh as it got is when Isaac, a secondary character, his girlfriend breaks up with him before he loses his last good eye. Other than this we don’t experience any major human-to-human disappointments among the main characters.

The biggest intimate disappointment that arises is perhaps when Hazel reveals in a voice over, in the weeks before Augustus dies, something to the effect of:

“I wish I could say that Augusts was brave to the end… or kept it together till the end, but he didn’t.”

But perhaps these almost flawless characters were in themselves part of the relief from the looming imperfection and tragedy of loss in the face of cancer. For me, while I did not run away from a boyfriend with cancer, I ran away from the opportunity to comfort someone who was very ill. Through Hazel Grace and Augustus, I got to vicariously experience what it would be like if I’d made a different decision. I hope the once ill young man who called for me in his hour of need also has found a story like The Fault in Our Stars that’s given him catharsis for the suffering he survived.

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-Image by Djembayz, via Wikimedia Commons

 

As my daughter and I left the movie together with a pile of wadded up tissues, she said, “Mom let’s go before the lights come up.” As we tiptoed through the darkness, the credits rolled, the music played, and the screen stayed filled with stars as sniffles still filled the theater.  And no one but us dared move from the safety of darkness.

In the end, Hazel Grace and Augustus impart so many heart-felt lessons that young people can bring to their lives. And, hopefully never have to use.

What have you learned about yourself by watching a movie? What books and movies have you shared with family?

 

 

 

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23 thoughts on “The Fault in Our Stars Part 1: The Fault in Young Love

  1. I think that if a story leaves you feeling any kind of emotion – if you’re laughing, crying, or angry – if it leaves you thinking about it long after you finish reading the book or seeing the movie, then it was a good one.

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    • Anneli,
      You are so right… and that is what some authors have a gift for…the way to get readers and viewers to emote or participate emotionally. I’m still trying to figure that out! But when I do, I know we’ll all have some crying, laughing and fun!

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  2. The fact that the hurt still lingers over that young-love-denial just shows the true depth of your caring, and how that experience possibly deepened it. So often we spend our time trying to find a shortcut around the hills that are the most challenging when, in so doing, we miss the view that could help us see the farthest. Clearly, the experience of your youth helped you see the value of the climb 😉 Thanks for sharing it with us, and what sounds to be a terrific movie.

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    • Ned,
      Wow – thanks for your introspection. Just brings home your range of understanding and compassion. I could have gone a lot deeper and dredged up more self-loathing or worked harder at a simpler voice in this, so I’m pleased that I didn’t come off callow on some level. Thanks for understanding. That age is so hard… and parenting that age even harder. What to share? What not to share? (OMG – that means she will think she can do the same things… so how do I let her know I’ve been there without selling front row seats to the movie that was my life…giving her default license to run that amok!) Ahhhh, parenting! Glad it’s friday!

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      • WHAT?! You get weekends off from parenting!!

        Just kidding, I know better.

        And yeah, I have a 13-year-old daughter, 14-year-old son and 15-year-old son still at home, and they have gotten to that point where we have begin to relate on a new level. Joyous and frightening, wondering what lessons to impart from personal experience and which ones to plead The 5th on 😉

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      • Yup… could be the one slip in a million comments… and what becomes the latest, greatest thing to do. The one stupid thing you did or wished for that slips up, they are primed to get a lock on that to either a.) use it against you (oh, you righteous fool you or b.) try it out because you did or didn’t and wish you had… UGH! I LOVE how you put relating to kids at this age/stage: joyous and frightening. Well said.

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  3. I do live in the “cancer pocket” here in the Falls. Bloody Run is less known, but part of the city. One of my friends is going through chemo now. Another share. I had the same boyfriend experience almost exactly. It will be remember to the day I die.

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    • I recall Bloody Run–got it’s name from the Devil’s Hole Massacre. Thank you for sharing that you experienced a similar story. It made me think about so much, and like you, I continue to think of that…It’s made me re-examine myself and perspectives on love, relationships and health. When i went through cancer as an adult, I worked hard to have few expectations of those around me, since I didn’t want to lay any of that on them. Thank you soul-Niagara-nature-sisiter. You are appreciated. -Renee

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  4. Your words are delightful. I hope to watch the movie with my daughter next week. I love your personal perception. You are such an incredible writer, my dear friend. Heartfelt love!!

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  5. Stepping back from the emotion here (since I wasn’t there to get caught up in it haha), I’ll ask in an analytical tone, “So is the movie sentimental? Is the book sentimental? And is that a good thing for a reader/viewer or a bad thing? And why?”

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    • The movie dipped into sentimentality somewhat. It didn’t candy coat a lot of things either though either. The book is perhaps a little less sentimental. The story refuses to tie things up too tightly into a finished product. Some lose ends and unfinished business remain… and attempts are made, but it’s subtle. I can see where kids might think that some coming to terms had been completed… whereas I would say… it could be interpreted either way. I prefer to read a more nuanced perspective into this story… so I found it intriguing… I’ll have more to say this week as I continue to delve into the comparison. R

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      • Perhaps… the only two antagonists in this book are cancer, death and the character van Houten, who–in my opinion–symbolizes death (more on that in next post…). I don’t think this book/movie would have a great impact or import on your writing…so from that standpoint perhaps it wouldn’t be that interesting for you. But given the subject matter and the age of her child, Rudri may find it interesting… but if we all read and discussed…well that can be interesting for everyone.

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  6. Hi Renee! This is Helena. My mom recommended your blog to me (mostly because of the fault in our stars analysis), and I love it! Both of your posts on the book give me new insight on the book I already know and love. Since I am a big fan of John Green, I do know that the novel was written in memory of Esther Earl, a fan of John Green who passed away from thyroid cancer in 2010. She had a great influence on the making of the book, and I thought you might want to know.

    Also, if you really enjoyed “The Fault in Our Stars”, I would recommend reading “Looking for Alaska”, another book by John Green. The book takes place at a small high school in Alabama, and I think you would find the characters very intriguing. I also know that they are making a movie based on the novel in the upcoming years, and I would be excited to hear your thoughts about it.

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    • Liebe Helena,
      I’m so glad to hear from you the young adult perspective! I’m thrilled you stopped by here and added to the conversation! I heard a great report on NPR about TFIOS yesterday. Mostly I thought they were spot on in their analysis…but they were a bunch of adults and adults don’t see the world through teen eyes, so I’m thrilled to hear from you. When an astute young woman called in and corrected the adults on their “take” on the book, I cheered. The adults found the teen characters “too intellectual” and too out of reach for many teens. I could not have disagreed more. The young people I know could have easy bantered with the likes of Hazel Grace and Augustus!

      On that point, I’m curious how you came upon the Esther Earl story, since Green has a disclaimer in his book that the story in no way resembles any real person… but yet, I know as writers we don’t write in a vacuum… we gather our experience from the real world–so your proposal makes absolute sense. And, likely, the disclaimer is a blanket, publisher inspired disclaimer.

      Also – next week, I’m going to explore what I thought was the glossy, candy-coated approach to the “cancer story” in TFIOS and I’d love to know what you thought. If you’ve experienced anyone with a life-threatening illness, did the book adequately present all the complexities that go along with that? Physical, emotional,etc. Also, did you think that Hazel Grace was perhaps too perfect? She didn’t disagree with her parents–let alone even disrespect them–but one time. I’d love to know if you thought she was a typical teen. If so how so and how not so. And what difference did that make to the story?

      Awesome to hear from you here!
      Renee

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