Sunday, January 12, 2014

Reader Response: The Fault in Our Stars Pt. 4

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 **

Chapters Eleven & Twelve

I read these two chapters with one hand while stirring a milk mix in a saucepan with the other, and I'm having to go back and have thoughts hours later. The fancy dinner in Amsterdam was a very sensual scene. I don't think John Green could have done better with a sex scene at this point. Besides, few writers know how to maintain suspense in a romance after sex, despite how most of the substance of successful, loving relationships happen after that. Though maybe not for cancer patients.

Hazel doesn't believe in an afterlife. Augustus believes in a fuzzy one based on human souls naturally continuing in some form after death (how Greek). Interesting how Hazel was bothered by this, with the assumption that intelligent people didn't fall for that kind of thinking. But as Augustus pointed out, it could be worse: he could follow the kind of cloying religious sentiment his parents do. True enough. I thought about what this means in terms of audience identification among teen readers. I think that only the more fundamentalist teens are going to have a major problem sympathizing with both Hazel and Augustus, but there has been enough sexuality and reluctance to accept Easy Religious Answers that I bet many of those readers would have already tuned out at this point...or are responding positively to the different kinds of views being presented here.

I liked Hazel's comment, "You're not that charismatic. You're mostly just hot." It's half-true. Hazel's initial interest in him was very much about his surface looks. Maybe it's just because I'm not a teenage girl, but those early scenes were the ones that made me disassociate the most with Hazel-the-narrator. But Augustus is actually very damn charming. Heck, he's practically a Mr. Darcy rip-off. He shows up as the cool-natured friend to a stormy fellow. He rarely says outright affectionate things, but will go through all sorts of secret trouble arranging things for the woman he likes. And he's a snappy dresser, sometimes anyway. He's all about being caring, not seeming caring. Which, again, seems to be John Green's entire theme of this book.

Caroline's story was surprising. John Green let chapters lag between showing readers the typical "We miss you Caroline!" "what a heroic person!" stuff on her memorial to revealing that she was an entirely shitty person. And Augustus stayed with her for a year as the frequent target of her crude insults. Dude's a saint. I don't care if he brushed it off as it being rude to dump a dying girl. Over time, that's a lot of daily choices to stay.

Speaking of people trying to stick around major jerks, we finally meet the author and his assistant. I feel slightly guilty for being happy that he turned out to be an insane, awful person. Couldn't you tell from the book and email, Hazel? But why, from a writing point of view, did John Green make Peter Van Houten like this? My guess is:

No one is going to have the answers for you, Hazel...and readers of The Fault in Our Stars.

I also took Van Houten's refusal to acknowledge that anything happens after the events of the book to parallel the previous chapter's discussion of afterlife. We want there to be a continuation in a "third space" of souls when our world stops, but maybe there just isn't. Yes, I suspect Hazel's characterization of her texting with Augustus is an intentional metaphor for communion after death.

Lidewij is an interesting character, because she only appears when the trip is underway, but it turns out she has been an intimately active participant in the plot for longer than that. It's not easy for me to think of similar situations happening in other books.

Hazel prays without believing in "a proper and omnipotent God"? Interesting. I hope she elaborates on this stuff.

Ok, the way the real-kiss scene was spliced with Otto Frank talking about children having richer lives than their parents know about, and then the impression of upset tourists who weren't at all upset about witnessing it...made me misty eyed. Very well done, Mr. Green.

Second mention that "some infinities are larger than other infinities." I mean, I can probably still explain the mathematics of this to someone if I think about it for a few minutes, but I'm having a hard time figuring out what John Green intends with it here.

Sex scene was a big shrug for me, as usual. There is a Venn diagram at this end of this chapter that I found intriguing because the way it renders in my Kindle app: Augustus' circle is only slightly escaping the VIRGINS circle. Wish I had the paper version to so I could be sure this is the intended layout. Assuming it is accurate, I'm confused because a condom was mentioned. Maybe there was trouble getting fully in? Anyway, kids and their assumptions that sex is one thing.

Chapter Thirteen

There is a diagram of Maslow's hierarchy of needs in my young adult novel. No wonder young adults like this novel. I especially like how it's criticized. I have an intense dislike for models along this line. They become Unquestionable Truth in social sciences, at least in the classes for social sciences. And then when I question them, people expect me to, uh, prove it wrong in all situations or something. Oh look, I have a button to push here.

Hazel's in the Kierkegaard room. How appropriate considering her anti-easy-sentiments-and-conceptualization stance toward life. I need to read more Kierkegaard. I have to translate him out of Christian to make sense to me, but the bits I've seen have made me think that's a worthwhile project.

Augustus is dying again, as expected. Did it have to happen so quickly after sex? Because that just makes me think of every horror movie ever.

Chapter Fourteen

Laughing out loud at Hazel's dad's sign's text at the airport. Perfect.

More metaphysical stuff about "the universe wants to be noticed." I can certainly identify with the feeling that revealed religions are simply cultural inventions, but that physicalism leaves out something vital. It's too bad there isn't an easy religion or word or book for this. There are probably books; this might be one, but I can never judge a book's overall message until I've read it all. If this were only an instinct before, the late Octavia Butler recently made damn sure it became an explicit rule of my approach to reading. There's an afterlife presence for you.

Augustus' chutzpah level: expert. Good egging scene.

I'm never happy with authors who say things like, "I never took another picture of him."

Chapter Fifteen

Oh. I get the infinities thing now. A special time with someone you love can be a perfect fullness of time, even if it's a tiny fleeting moment on another scale. I've had that, twice, and whatever it does for Hazel, it has certainly made me much more at peace with my own mortality.

1 comment:

  1. "There is a diagram of Maslow's hierarchy of needs in my young adult novel. No wonder young adults like this novel. I especially like how it's criticized. I have an intense dislike for models along this line. They become Unquestionable Truth in social sciences, at least in the classes for social sciences. And then when I question them, people expect me to, uh, prove it wrong in all situations or something. Oh look, I have a button to push here."



    I'd like some elaboration, if you don't mind. I find Maslow's hierarchy to be flawed at a level I can't define yet still a useful tool for the relatively uninitiated (because you KNOW I count as initiated...)

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