Thursday, January 9, 2014

Reader Response: The Fault in Our Stars Pt. 2

This is a continuation of a reader response exercise for John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, done as an assignment for my Teen Materials class in Library Science grad school.

** spoilers everywhere **

Chapter Two

The opening to this chapter was disturbing, between Augustus' terrible driving and Hazel's worry that her lung problems wouldn't let her say "No" loudly enough to stop him from having sex from her if she didn't want it later on. The assumption that a man has to be stopped rather than being invited is just icky.
The driving issue was rescued somewhat by being a result of Augustus having to use his left, non-prosthetic leg. But still, practice! Reminds me of Mr. Lynn's terrible driving in Fire and Hemlock. Not an endearing trait to me.

I did like the detail about using proxy questions like whether someone is still in school to probe about survival expectancy. Not something I had considered, but it makes sense those strategies would arise.

Was not expecting Hazel's backstory of already coming so close to death. I really prefer that being an intense page than a long, detailed narrative. That was a heck of page.

The scene of meeting Augustus' parents was a mix of people with different beliefs and values still treating each other with care. I can appreciate that.

All this gushing about large vocabularies reminds me of what usually happens when I'm meeting women. I like literacy being portrayed as cool for teens in this book. I mean, it's a bit self-serving for John Green but that doesn't take away from how important it is for the teens.

Oh. I had actually seen this quote somewhere: "Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book." Which is quite quotable. What I hadn't heard from whomever-passed-this-on is the contrast Hazel sets up between these kind of books and books "so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal." I thought about whether any books were in either of those categories for me. No, none are. And not because of the books, but because of people. Not everyone is in a good place to benefit from even the most important books. This is why I have serious reservations about the way To Kill a Mockingbird is foisted on schoolkids, even though I think it's one of the most important books for people to read who are ready for it. For the other category, I don't particularly mind if people have no use for books that resonate with me personally. It doesn't mean there's a problem with me or the book; just a mismatch between that other person (at this point in their life) and that book.

Hazel isn't a very good feminist with her gender essentialism about movies. 

I do find the Capitalized Terms interesting. I have to wonder how many were floating around before, and how many John Green is crafting into terms that are no doubt getting widespread use now. I do think the right kind of term acts as a sort of magic spell, making it much easier to conjure up a concept, put it out in the open, apply it, and even challenge it. This can be a great help to humanity, or it can shield crummy ideas under its catchiness or rhyme. I do know that "the field of Thinking About Suffering" is an adaptation of "The Problem of Evil," and consider the adjustment much more apt to contemporary English. (Also, some confirmation about my guess about natural evil being a major topic just from the title. It's on purpose.)

Chapter Three

Hazel's ridiculous mother. Hah.

The rest of this chapter is feeling more like it's about Accomplishing Things, without an equally strong task of Advancing The Story. Hazel's friend Kaitlyn seems to just be there to point out Hazel's alienation from her high school friends, despite well-meaning attempts on their part to stay connected. The curious girl who tried on Hazel's oxygen plugs is there to show that it's Ok to Notice Illness. The crappy sci-fi books Hazel is reading are pointing out, once again, that Hazel's fantasy is not to constantly think about endings.

Chapter Four

Hazel's favorite book (which is fictional in our world) gets a synopsis, nice! I can tell why Hazel consider it such a personal thing: her own thought patterns have been similar to that book's protagonist. Of course, here in the real world, I realize that it's the other way around. The book is there to be a mirror of Hazel. It's presenting an alternate ending to The Fault in Our Stars, but like any "this is how the heist is going to go" movie montage, I'm pretty sure this means it won't work out that way.

Strong approval of exchanging books as an essential part of dating.

Ok, Hazel is attending long lectures at her community college. The odd and intriguing thing is that they seem to be pretty self-contained. Since it keeps happening, I'm going to go back now and start making a note of the topics. Maybe a pattern will emerge:

Earlier: American Literature class, on Frederick Douglas. No details on topic.
Here: Twentieth-Century American Poetry, on Sylvia Plath. Plath's poetry never once quoted in an hour and a half lecture.

I appreciated Augustus' seeming detachment during Isaac's big scene of rage and sorrow. Really, he did care. He just knew what to care about.

At the end of this reading session, I'm still not sure I would continue on my own. There's enough in the plot and turns of phrase that are surprising that I think this is an interesting book. I can understand its popularity. It just hasn't been saying anything new to me. But maybe that's an unfair expectation for Young Adult lit. I'm twice the age of the intended audience, and have had lots of time to get most of the ideas covered from other places. But I don't recall ever getting so much in one place, so this book might be an important, well-presented gathering for its audience.

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