Debbie from Yulpa Reads has reviewed The Fault in Our Stars for us. As a cancer survivor herself, she shares a unique perspective.
Sixteen year old Hazel Grace Lancaster has terminal cancer, but because of a “Cancer Miracle,” has purchased for herself an unknown bit of time. She wishes to minimize the damage her death will cause by staying close to home, spending her time taking classes at the junior college, reading, and watching reality TV. To please her parents, who are, as she says, the only ones in a worse position than she is, she attends a Cancer Kids Support Group. There she meets Augustus Waters who had “a little touch of osteosarcoma a year and a half ago…but is on a roller coaster that only goes up”. As their relationship slowly develops, Hazel shares her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, with Augustus. The author, Peter Van Houten, is the only person Hazel has come across who seems to understand what it was like to be dying but not have died. An Imperial Affliction ends in mid-sentence. Hazel accepts that the main character, Anna, has died but wants to know what happens to everyone else in the novel. She has written to the author many times without an answer. Augustus makes it possible for the two of them (and Hazel’s mother) to go to Amsterdam to meet the reclusive author.
Does this sound like a book that is sweet, funny and life affirming? Well, it is. The dialogue is witty and intelligent. It is wonderful to watch these two young people fall in love despite their circumstances. And it is particularly delightful to watch Hazel bloom and become stronger in spite of her frail body.
Very mild violence that involves the smashing of Augustus’ baseball trophies (with his permission) by their friend Isaac when he finds out his “forever” girlfriend dumped him because he was going to be blind.
I remember a few mild appropriately descriptive words.
Normally, I’d be disturbed about a sexual encounter between sixteen and seventeen year old kids, but in this case it felt life affirming. Others may disagree. Most of the explicit language was about her oxygen and his artificial leg.
Hazel and Augustus and Hazel and her Dad have some discussions about what they think happens after death. And the Dutch Tulip Man, a character in Imperial Affliction, is a metaphor for God.
As a cancer survivor, I identified with Hazel. There is not even a hint of sentimentality in the book, no brave sacrifice, no heroic messages, just reality. Her story felt true, so I was not surprised to find at the end of the book an acknowledgement to Esther Grace Earl and her family.
Even a successful fight against cancer involves loss. Hazel’s lungs can no longer do their job alone and their friend, Isaac, must pay a price for survival that would horrify most of us, the loss of his eyes. Even without such side effects, the body that you are left with is not the same one you had before. John Green respects his readers enough to tell them the truth and believes they can handle it.
Hazel loved An Imperial Affliction because it was her story and an honest story. She wanted to know what happened to the other characters because if they were doing well, maybe her parents would be OK, too. I love The Fault In Our Stars because it is an authentic story of hope and the daring to risk love in the face of death.
To find out more about the foundation created in Esther Earl’s honor go to tswgo.org .
Unlike Peter van Houten, John Green answers questions about his books. You can read some of them at johngreenbooks.com
End note from Laura Catherine – I LOVED the book. It was funny and clever and profound. But I have to give my “mom of two young girls” disclaimer. The sexual encounter between Augustus and Hazel is not graphic or steamy, but it would be the thing that would prevent me from recommending this for middle schoolers and younger teens.
Whew! I’m exhausted. I just spent the last week in a futuristic, dystopian Chicago. It was brutal. Divergent is the story of Beatrice Prior, a sixteen year old girl who has grown up in a society divided into five factions – each dedicated to a particular virtue. Beatrice as been raised Abnegation, a faction dedicated to selflessness, but now she is of age to choose her own faction. Unfortunately for Beatrice, the aptitude test designed to help young people choose, has come back inconclusive. She is not fully suited for Abnegation, nor any other faction. She is Divergent. Beatrice doesn’t know what this means. She only knows (thanks to a warning from Tory, a kindly, albeit cryptic, test administrator) that being Divergent is very dangerous. After covering up Beatrice’s test results, Tory admonishes her not to tell anyone she is Divergent.
This makes choosing a faction very difficult for Beatrice, who has never really felt she belongs among the selfless Abnegation. On choosing day, Beatrice surprises herself and her parents by choosing Dauntless, the faction devoted to bravery.
Most of the book is devoted to Beatrice’s (who renames herself Tris once she joins her new faction) training to become Dauntless. Initiates who fail training must live Factionless – a fate worse than death in a society that places “faction before blood.” Initiates must undergo weapons training, hand-to-hand combat training, and worst of all, fear simulation exercises in which trainees are injected with a serum that cause hallucinations of their worst fears. While all this is going on, poor Tris must deal with injuries, homesickness, sadistic roommates, and a growing suspicion that Dauntless leaders might be hiding something. It is Tris’s handsome trainer, Four, who first suspects what Tris is hiding. Lucky for her, he is a good guy, and he has a thing for her. Like her test administrator, he helps her hide the fact that she is Divergent.
Eventually things escalate, and Tris and Four discover the truth about Dauntless. Together they foil Dauntless’s plan, but not without a bloody battle. And not for good. I guess I’ll have to read the sequel, Insurgent to find out what happens next.
While violence and sexual tension might make some parents squeamish about this novel, Divergent has the potential to open some very fruitful discussions about bravery and sacrifice – something many of today’s teens know little about.
There might have been a few four letter words, but not enough to make the language a disturbing factor for me.
Oh my, yes. In this novel we are treated to descriptions of brutal beatings, near drownings, a guy getting stabbed in the eye with a butter knife. I’m not a complete weenie when it comes to violence, but this book was just exhausting. It was like one long action movie. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t put it down, but I’m not sure it’s the right book for my sensitive eleven year old.
Since this is a teen novel, it’s no surprise that a romance blossoms between Tris and Four. They only kiss, but there is a sensuousness to their relationship that might not be appropriate for younger readers. This book is by no means steamy, but she definitely likes him for more than his eyes. Also, in one of her fear simulations, the fear Tris must face is sex with Four. She fears intimacy. She faces it by saying no, and after the simulation, he assures her that he does not have experience in that department either and that she is under no pressure. Of course, I would have preferred he said he does’t believe in sex outside of marriage, but I guess that’s just too much to hope for in a modern romance – even one for teens. I just hope Tris and Four don’t take it to the next level in the sequel. I definitely felt like the author left that door open.
There are no supernatural elements in Divergent. However, in one of her near-drowning scenes, Tris recalls the waters of her baptism. I thought that was nice. Also in the acknowledgments, Roth’s first thank you is to God and His Son for her blessings. This bodes well for a chaste sequel!
WHAT TO DISCUSS
Divergent is a dystopian novel. What other dystopian novels are popular for kids today? (The Hunger Games, Among the Hidden, The Ugglies, Matched…)
Was the violence too much, or did it add to the story by helping readers imagine what life was like for Tris and the other Dauntless?
To join Dauntless, Tris must, for all intents and purposes, leave her parents forever. What does this say about her?
Tris is not terribly sympathetic to some of her fellow initiates. Is Tris a likable character?
What role dose forgiveness play in this novel?
What is the role of self-sacrifice in this novel? Selflessness? Selfishness?
What is bravery?