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Wednesday, Sep 22, 2021

New teen novel tops charts with whirlwind story

I fell in love with John Green’s novel, “The Fault in Our Stars,” the same way Hazel Grace Lancaster, 16-year-old narrator of the novel, falls asleep and in love “slowly and then all at once.” “The Fault in Our Stars” takes readers on a whirlwind of tragedy, adventure and romance, sometimes all within the same page. I was not the only reader enchanted by Green’s stunning words. The novel reached no.1 on the New York Times “Bestseller” list for young adult books, and stayed there for an impressive 45 weeks. The novel follows Hazel, a young and clever lung cancer patient, throughout her life while she deals with her first love, her own inevitable death as well as her cancer singed friends’ illnesses, and a string of life’s disappointments.

There are a few factors that drive the novel to such success. One prime contributing element is the way in which Hazel narrates. She bluntly puts hard topics into perspective, commenting on her own limiting aspects like her “lungs that suck at being lungs.” She nonchalantly mentions her everyday fears that seem to echo those not even near death, explaining how she “liked being a person” and wanted to “keep at it.” Green keeps his novel at a refreshing pace, and uses Hazel’s voice to refute phony cookie cutter notions like “without pain, how could we know joy,” saying, “the existence of broccoli does not, in any way, affect the taste of chocolate.”  Using her blatant sarcasm Green does not capture what it's like to be a teen with cancer in today’s society, but rather presents a teen with an abounding amount of intellect who just happens to have cancer.

The fact that Green does not allow his novel to, in any way, condescend to its targeted demographic, is perhaps another reason for its success as a poignant piece of literature. Green squashes the teen stereotype and refuses to assume that his teen readers are only obsessed with social media and reality television. This is evident in the creation of his characters. Hazel, though she does find “America’s Next Top Model” a riveting program, is a fervent reader herself. Much of the novel is based around Hazel’s love for “An Imperial Affliction,” a novel spun from Green’s imagination. “An Imperial Affliction” is narrated by an introspective cancer patient much like Hazel. Hazel’s love for this book echoes the love many readers have for Green’s novel, and Hazel’s personality echoes the blunt, nonchalant attitudes of many of her readers.

Perhaps the most important element that has played into the novel’s success is Hazel’s obvious strength of heart. While Hazel is reciting poetry to a sickly Augustus Waters, who is covered in vomit and blood in the middle of a gas station parking lot, it’s hard to keep the tears at bay. When the original poem ends and Hazel begins to urgently impart her own stanzas in order to fill the void left by the anticipation of an ambulance coming to save Hazel’s only love, tears are inevitable. The novel is filled with other tear jerking moments that tug at the heartstrings, such as Hazel seeing herself as a “grenade waiting to explode” and only wanting to “minimize the casualties.” Moments like these are sure to make even the most desensitized reader choke up a little.

As Hazel says, “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.” I truly believe that “The Fault in Our Stars” captures the essence of that zeal-filling novel. Fortunately, Mercer University’s own International English Honors Society, Sigma Tau Delta, is hosting a book club that is covering Green’s novel. The meetings are going to be held every other Tuesday until Nov. 29 on the first floor of Willingham. I strongly encourage everyone who has lost someone to cancer, every teen, and everyone who shares a love for tragedies mixed with a healthy dose of humor to attend these meetings, or read the novel individually.


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