On Saturday, I finished my fortieth book of the year. My husband and the guppy took Old Man Coop and headed out of town. I had the house to myself, except for Sadie and Scout. It’s so much a rarity that I didn’t know where to start with the free time. First, I peed by myself with the door shut and then I spent 2 hours figuring out what to do, and finally I decided that what I needed in my sleepy, slightly hung over state was Indian food, Diet Coke and literature. I headed downtown so I could be closer to the water, with the knowledge that its usually about 10 degrees cooler on the coast. I was right. The weather in San Diego was actually perfect for June and I felt sort of put together because I was wearing a skirt. I sat and read for two hours, cover to cover, page by page, and fell in love with Hazel and her dad and Isaac and most of all Augustus Waters.
Anyway, the book I read was The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. The really short, uncomplicated synopsis is “two teenagers meet at a sucky cancer patient support group and end up sharing an affinity for a novel about a girl with cancer”. Don’t worry, I’m ramping up to a better one. I’m a bit of a monologuer, it’s a deep-seated character flaw. (I’m also a word-maker-uper, so don’t look up monologuer in the dictionary).
To those around me, its no secret that I am a nerdfighter and self professed John Green fangirl. I may have, in the past,welcomed people into my home by shoving my copy of Looking for Alaska at my friends as the walked in and saying “YouHaveToReadThisBecauseItsReallyAwesome! Oh, and the beer is in the fridge, bottom shelf, help yourself” . But anyway, back to the book. As someone who has spent a lot of time in cancer wards with sick kids, I really could not think of an author I would rather have write this book. And so without further ado, my (completely platonic) love letter to John Green.
Dear John Green,
The other day, I sat in an Indian restaurant for two hours eating some really good tikka masala and read The Fault in Our Stars from cover to cover. Don’t worry, I left good tip and no one was waiting for my table anyway. I had bought my copy the week it came out and since then its bring blue cover had been mocking me from its place on one of many shelves in my living room.I had been putting it off, knowing the subject matter, knowing that it would be both beautiful and painful.
I’m not a cancer sufferer or cancer survivor but I am a cancer sibling. My brother, who is also my best friend, had leukemia three times over an eleven year span, starting when he was seven and I was eleven. He received a bone marrow transplant in 2008 which is mostly working and he’ll be 21 in October. Anyway, I spent a lot of time in hospitals watching kids do stuff the shouldn’t have to do. And that is mostly what people see, they see bald kids and puking kids and exhausted kids and legless kids but they don’t really see the kids or teenagers or young adults. They just see the disease.
One of the hardest things for me was the fact that people starting seeing him as what he calls “a chemo kid” and not Spencer. People distanced themselves because they could no longer relate to him or us. They can’t didn’t know what to say or how to act, so instead of saying something stupid, the said nothing, which is way worse. After the casseroles were eaten, the get well soon cards were read and the dust had settled, no one knew how to react around any of us. The space was surprisingly stifling.
Thank you for calling out the menagerie of bullshit that people say to kids with cancer. Thank you for paying tribute to the struggle without letting it define someone. Hazel and Augustus are people, yes teenagers who are sick, very very sick, but its not everything they are. Frank honesty and grace are often time something that oppose each other, so thank you for making Hazel and Augustus and Isaac people. Thank you for making Augustus a flawed hero in his own way, for making Hazel a strong young woman, for giving Isaac a real sense of humor. And most of all, thank you for writing books that don’t suck.