A 5th grade student of mine insisted I read The Fault in our Stars. I read it a few days ago and wrote her this letter. I suppose it serves as a revieA 5th grade student of mine insisted I read The Fault in our Stars. I read it a few days ago and wrote her this letter. I suppose it serves as a review as well.
I finally got around to reading "The Fault in our Stars," and it was absolutely lovely. For me it was the perfect example of why adults both should and shouldn't read books meant for kids and teens.
I'll start with the shouldn't. The basic reason adults shouldn't be allowed to read a book like this is that we can be jackasses who take ourselves too seriously. We sometimes don't allow a book to exist on its own, instead fitting it into the context of books that have come before. "Oh, it's a teenage love book (yawn)" or "Oh, it's a book about tragic early death (yawn)" By the way the yawn is only the 7% of me that likes to be uptight and superior. Most of me still enjoys just about any story, but occasionally that nasty 7% shames the other 93%.
Then we start reading a book like "The Fault in our Stars," and even though we are taken by the excellent writing and the charm of the characters, we start picking at it. "Those characters are totally unrealistic. 16 and 17 year olds don't talk in clever speeches full of poetry and philosophy." "Well, you could certainly see the ending coming a mile away." If the youth of the world ever rise up and start forcibly isolating us in retirement homes at 32, it will because of things like this, and it will be deserved. In short we shouldn't be allowed to read a book like this because we can be unbearable.
On the other hand, adults need to read books like this. Adult fiction too often seems to be primarily composed of books that try to outdo each other in a type of reality that is both more awful and more banal than real reality. We don't read enough fairy tales, which is essentially what "The Fault in our Stars" is. We listen to too much Sonic Youth and not enough Queen (Your parents may have to help you with this one). We need to read books that make us passionately care and dramatically root for the characters.
I know that when John Greene was writing this book he wasn't writing a dumbed down story for younger readers. Instead he was writing a story full of enormous triumphs, staggering loss, and lovely metaphors for an audience that isn't too cynical to enjoy a good fairy tale. He did that with such skill that he made us adults grin and remember that we get plenty of reality. A little thought provoking unreality about the realities of love, loss, and the beauty of people can be just what the doctor ordered.
One last thing. I loved the whole Amsterdam trip. It's hard to read about their dinner without remembering one of the great standout moments of your own life. But I especially loved when they were at Anne Frank's house and they saw a video of Otto Frank talking about reading his daughter's diary. He said, " It was quite a different Anne I had known as my daughter. She never really showed this kind of inner feeling. And my conclusion is, since I had been in very good terms with Anne, that most parents don't know really their children." I agree with Otto that it can be hard to really know what is in the souls of other people. But I have always believed that seeing the books, music, art, etc. that other people cherish tells you a lot about them. So thank you for introducing a book to me that I will cherish, and thank you for sharing that part of you.
P.S. - If my wife mentions anything about me crying on the couch at the end of the book, it was allergies....more