The Fault in Our Stars: Yes, Teens Really Are That Smart
In January of 2007 someone pointed me to a YouTube channel that a young adult author and his brother were using as their main mode of communication for the whole year. That author was John Green, and I quickly became a fan of both him and his brother Hank. I hadn't read any of John Green's books before I started watching the videos, but once I started, I became hooked and began thrusting them into the hands of every reader I knew. To say that I was really happy to be reading The Fault in Our Stars for BlogHer Book Club is an understatement. My reaction was closer to an ode to Kermit the Frog, complete with a big "Yay!" and flailing Muppet arms.
The Fault in Our Stars is narrated by Hazel, who was diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12. At 14, a new drug brought her a medical miracle, shrinking the tumors and adding years to her life. At 16, she's finished high school, leaving most of her friends and any glimmer of normalcy she had behind. What she can't leave behind is her diagnosis and the knowledge that while the medication has added years to her life, she does not have a future stretched out before her the same way most 16-year-olds do.
Her parents want her to live as much as possible and push her out of the house whenever they can. She attends college courses, and she goes to her cancer support group. It's there that she meets Augustus Waters and realizes that her future might still have a few surprises left in it.
I know that some people, especially those who don't normally read young adult fiction, will pick up this book and declare that teens aren't like the ones in The Fault in Our Stars -- that Hazel and Gus are too smart. It's true that there may not anyone exactly like Hazel or Gus, but yes, teens really are that smart. Yes, there are teens who have deep conversations about books. Yes, there are kids that have cancer, who won't get better, and who can still find the humor and beauty in life. Yes, there are teenagers who change the world because they pay attention to the universe and make the universe pay attention to them. John Green gets to know kids just like them in the Nerdfighter community he and Hank run, and he meets hundreds of them at a time when he goes on his book tours, often called the Tour de Nerdfighting
The way that John interacts with teens online is something I think shines through in all his books, including The Fault in Our Stars. He treats them as people who are capable of doing the the things that they dream of doing and some things they haven't even thought of yet. His online community, which is not just teens but certainly is a youthful community, has created the Foundation to Decrease Worldsuck, and they do their best to try to make the world more awesome. In 2010, they partnered with the Harry Potter Alliance to raise funds for Helping Haiti Heal, and they raised so much money (they filled four planes!) that they named the fourth plane the SS DFTBA, which in the Nerdfighting community stands for Don't Forget To Be Awesome. And as I am writing this post, Team Nerdfighterhas donated more than half a million dollars on the microlending site Kiva.org. And that's just a couple of the things they've done. I feel that Hazel and Augustus would approve.