Finally Jumping On the John Green Bandwagon

Saturday, July 19, 2014
So, I finally started reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. As a young adult author and reader of YA lit, this is rather an embarrassing confession.  I should have read it earlier and before it became a blockbuster movie. So, what was my resistance?

It wasn't because it was popular--I love best-selling YA.  I'm a Divergent, Hunger Games, and HUGE Harry Potter fan. It wasn't because I hadn't heard about it before--I have an 18-year-old avid reader in my critique group and a Twitter account. No, my resistance came from the subject matter mostly. I didn't want to read a realistic contemporary fiction book about teens that have cancer.

But I'm so glad I did. By the time you're reading this post, I will have finished the book and most likely dabbed a few tears from my eyes. It is an utterly depressing book, if you only look at it from the subject matter--kids with cancer are not fun to read about. It can not possibly have the typical happy ending we often want, where the two main characters ride together off into the sunset. Cliche, yes? But it's what many readers want.

Then why is this book so popular? Why did it become a movie? What draws us in? My guess is the characters, the humor, and a setting that we are not used to.

Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters are amazing teenagers--smart, funny, appreciative, loyal, and good. They are not perfect--Green throws in some typical teenage behavior every once in a while, but Hazel and Gus are a pleasure to read about. I read the pages quickly and turned them even faster because I wanted to see what intelligent, witty, hilarious thing they would say next. Green created a brilliant supporting cast to go with them, from Issac to both sets of parents to the eccentric author living in Amsterdam. I haven't had the chance to Google “Everything I Need to Know About John Green” yet; but when I do, I'm hoping for some insight into how he developed these characters.

I know it's strange to say that a book about kids having cancer who fall in love while mutually admiring a book about kids with cancer is humorous, but TFIOS (what our friends on Twitter call this novel) is laugh out loud funny. I giggled several times while reading this book, so much so that my three-year-old asked me, “Mama, what is so funny?” I could not explain to her the Night of the Broken Trophies or the Support Group jokes or the fact that the kids with cancer made fun of cancer perks while taking advantage of them--because she wouldn't understand. I didn't understand until I read the book, but John Green is a brilliant writer, and he knows how to draw readers in with humor.

Finally, I didn't know much about this novel besides the cancer part before I started reading. I don't want to do a bunch of spoilers here, if there is anyone left on the planet who hasn't read this book yet; but part of the novel takes place in Amsterdam. At first, I thought--no way. Why would this teen cancer novel take place in a city known for prostitution and smoking pot? But there is a part of the novel set there, and instead of those things the city is known for--we get an inside look at the Anne Frank House while two teenagers with cancer fall in love.

The Fault In Our Stars has been reviewed so many times--it's not like you needed to see another review here today. But we are writers. When a writer reads a book that is marvelous, she should take the time to figure out why and see if she can incorporate any of these lessons into her own writing. So, I'm trying, and probably will be for a long time, but I'm so thankful I finally read this wonderful novel, and I think it will change me in more ways than one.

Have you read The Fault In Our Stars? Is there another book you've read that made you want to be a better writer?


Margo L. Dill is the author of Caught Between Two Curses and Finding My Place. This weekend, she is holding a contest on her blog to win a $25 gift card or a 3000-word edit, in celebration of the All-Star Break. To find out more, visit:


Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--I keep lingering by TFIOS when I pass it in bookstores, but haven't succumbed...Obviously I need to "just say no" to my resistance and get the book.

Authors who can make dark subjects funny always intrigue me. Mary Karr is one.

(Speaking of humor in tragic times and speaking of Anne Frank, I worked with a teacher this summer who does a project with "The Diary of Anne Frank; this teacher highlighted one of the humorous parts of the memoir, where Anne Frank spoke of their living space--the attic--as if it were a luxury hotel or a spa. To me, it seems impossible to have been able to constantly face death and the Nazi's extermination efforts and see it with irony and humor, but Anne Frank did.)

Okay, Margo, okay. I will make sure I get the book this weekend. Thanks for the encouragement/nudge/shove.

Margo Dill said...

I am glad to see that there was another person left on the planet that had not read the book yet. :) If you cry when reading, just have a tissue box next to you. Let me know what you think!

Anonymous said...

I "borrowed" TFIOS from my 13-year-old granddaughter when she wanted me to read it. Sooo glad I did. It is sad at some level, but to me it is so much more about what gives our lives meaning and what it means for a life--no matter its length--to be "well lived."

As a writer, I can only dream of creating something with all the delightful layers you describe. Any book that brings us to laugh and cry and think is a lasting legacy.

Margo Dill said...

I love that--"So much more about what gives our lives meaning and what it means for a life--to be well lived.

Yes, that's what I wanted to say!

Renee Roberson said...

I too was late jumping on TFIOS bandwagon, but I finally read it last fall and loved it. The movie is almost as good. The teenager inside me definitely had a crush on Gus. The dialogue between the two main characters was the stuff we all dream of writing. I cried for probably two hours after I finished reading the book! I have to admit I read "Looking for Alaska" after TFIOS, and I just didn't like it as much. I felt like it could have been cut in half and had some pretty graphic scenes involving sexuality and alcohol abuse that I wouldn't want my early teen reading.

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