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Conundrum: The Fault in Our Stars

I, like multitudes, anxiously awaited the release of The Fault in Our Stars. I hoarded the promotional copies of Chapter 1 with the finalized cover handed out at the ALAN Annual Convention in November 2011. I attended the Nerdfighters event in Raleigh, NC in January. I watched JG read Chapter 1 of TFIOS on YouTube countless times. And after the book came out, I stalked book sections in stores hunting Hanklerfish. But for some reason, I was almost…scared to start the book.

I’ve been a John Green fan since I readLooking for Alaska for the first time before it won the Printz. He was one of the first authors that I can remember writing honestly intelligent teenagers. Not pocket-protector wearing smarties, but sincerely intelligent people like my friends from high school who were not just the embodiment of their intelligence but were also complex and funny and insecure and talented and flawed. And the endings to his stories weren’t orchestrated like many authors seem to believe YA readers need.

So I think when faced with the reality of TFIOS, I was nervous. What if it didn’t live up to the hype? What if I didn’t like it? What if I didn’t cry? What if it was too depressing and missing the humor I loved? What if? What if? What if?

And then I read it. And I couldn’t put it down. And I wanted to clone Augustus Waters. And I wanted to be Hazel Grace’s friend. And I cried – the Ugly Cry. But something still niggled at the back of my mind and heart. I couldn’t put my finger on it at first and, clearly, I’ve waited a considerable amount of time to write about TFIOS because I wanted to be sure of what, exactly, I wanted to say about this book. There are so many voices shouting about JG and The Greatness that is TFIOS, I didn’t want to just jump on the bandwagon of adulation.

Here’s the thing: it leaves me disappointed. Not just when reading TFIOS , but for every book or short story that I read or reread. Disappointed because it’s over. Disappointed because I’m not sure that teens like this really exist. Yes, I had friends like some of the characters but no one person I could think of embodied all of Q’s characteristics or was as self-assured and driven as Margot Roth Spiegelman. Perhaps only one or two students out of 130+ I teach every year comes close to being as witty or open-minded as  the Will(s) Grayson.

“ARE YOU SAYING YOU DON’T LIKE JOHN GREEN’S BOOKS?!? I hear you cry. No. I still love JG. I still love his books. I still love Hank and the videos. And not only do I think he’s written amazing books, I think he’s a really nice guy. He cares about his readers and young people in general. He cares about the environment. He is someone I’d like to call a friend.

But more importantly, I want my students to read his books. I want them to know that there are people like Tobin out there. I want them to know that it’s ok to be smart and assertive. That you don’t have to go along with the crowd when your heart is telling you to do something different. That loving someone wholly and completely is possible in high school. That some teachers suck and some rock as do parents and friends and siblings and heroes. That, ultimately, life is about the experience and appreciating the moment and, in the words of Augustus Waters, “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world…but you do have some say in who hurts you.” We should all strive to be as happy about our choices for the people in our lives as Augustus and Hazel are in theirs.

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