The Fault In Our Stars Ramble


Let me start by saying that there is no doubt that The Fault In Our Stars is a very, very good book. All the cliched statements that usually accompany rave reviews apply to this novel: I literally couldn’t put if down. A page turner. Honest. Real. You’ll laugh and cry.  

It’s funny without being slapstick. Sad without being maudlin. It’s a book about cancer but it’s also this achingly raw portrait of fleeting youth and the things that we see pass us by. In fact, “aching” seems to be the central emotion. You hurt just like Hazel does.

And yet I can’t help but feel that the true tragedy won’t hit most teenagers until later in life.

Eddie Murphy (of all people) once made a joke about haunted house movies that essentially revolved around their flawed premises. All haunted house movies can be solved with three simple words:  LEAVE THE HOUSE. Coming of age or YA literature sort of has a similar problem in that the problems of teenagers are so ridiculously minor when looked at from an adult’s perspective. When I was 15 and read The Catcher in the Rye I thought it was speaking gospel truths about the world, about adults, about how everything is inherently bullshit. Reading it now and the whole thing seems satiric in its overblown worldview. Holden’s a whiner—a spoiled rich, white kid who is maybe in danger twice in the book (once with the lecherous teacher and once with the pimp) and ultimately pays no true consequences for his actions. (This might be debatable depending on how much you read into those opening lines of the novel in which Holden vaguely alludes to being somewhere where he can “take it easy”.)

Romeo and Juliet has some similar issues in which we’re supposed to buy into the fact that it’s this big romantic love story that is so tragic that it, mind-boggilingly, ENDS A MULTI-GENERATIONAL FEUD. That is some bullshit, right there. So let’s just say that Hazel and Gus’ relationship is not Romeo and Juliet’s. Hazel and Gus are far more likable,  level-headed, three-dimensional characters than the Bard’s teens. And yet…

And yet both relationships end tragically. Except when Romeo and Juliet die it’s laughable. It’s dark comedy. It’s a Monty Python sketch.

When Gus dies, it’s heartbreaking. And to know Hazel is only a few years behind him compounds it.

And with that John Green has solved YA’s “haunted house problem.” These are not silly, superfluous teens who fall into an absurdly tragic fate because they are both totally lacking in self-awareness. Hazel and Gus have to believe they’ve found their soulmate because their lives and deaths are no longer in their hands. They have the ultimate excuse to be teenagers, to (ugh) YOLO, to make their first love their last love because it is.

Ever thus the true tragedy, Lebowski. As an adult, I want to stand in judgement of them, just like I do Holden, but instead I find myself hoping that death comes for Hazel soon. Not out of malice, but out of a hope that her love for Gus will remain pure, untarnished, and achingly true.

Anyway, it’s a great book.  You should read it.


Smily Face Fountain

There’s a smiley face in the water of the magic fountain.  But not really.  The smiley face is just leaves, leaves that have been blown together in the vague shape of a mug that looks perpetually happy.  And the fountain–if you can call the rusted brown wrought iron design that now holds a murky pool of algae and microorganisms–is not really magical.  I was once told that it was.  But that’s kid stuff.  I’m 15 now.

“You gotta suck real hard,” Denise said.  “Like real hard, like it’s a diabetes-in-a-cup shake from I, Scream.  Then hold it in your lungs.  It’s gonna burn for a bit, but my sister says that’s totally what is supposed to happen.”

“And then what?”

“And then you exhale, man.  Then you’re hell of stoned, dude.  Come on, Buchanan, you know you’re up for this, right?”

And then we go to jail, Denise, I think to say, but do not.

Denise is the new girl.  Newer than me.  I have a full two days on her at Clancy.  And that makes me cooler than her.  I keep telling myself that.  I am cooler than her.  It keeps me sane, especially when she talks about all the guys she’s gone to third base with, or showing me her tattoo or talking about her boyfriend in Madison who is totally in a band, like a real band.  They’ve played in clubs on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.

Denise takes out the pipe.  It looks like one of my dad’s old Grateful Dead shirts, but in glass form.

“Is it clean?” I ask.  “Like, when was the last time your sister used it.”

“Jesus, Amy, what’re you afraid my sister’s got the herp or something?  You trying to say something?”

“No!  Fuck, I’m just… how do you even clean that shit anyway?”

Denise looks at me like I’m fucking retarded.  “You just fuckin’ clean it, okay, with like chemicals and shit.  You don’t put it in the dishwasher or anything.  But it’s still clean.”  Denise angles the pipe so that some sun glints off it.  “Besides, I hear you can’t get anything off it.  Weed is, like, a natural germ killer.  Like Pine Sol.”

Denise takes out a small baggie, the kind that Ms. Wike gives us when our piercings go against dress code, which feels like they all do.  She–Denise, not Ms. Wike–takes out a small ball of army-green stuff.  It looks like a very miniature, kind of deformed rotten cabbage.  

“You gotta crumble it first,” I say.

“Oh, shit, look at Buchanan.  Stoner of the Year, yo!”

“Fuck you.  I saw that shit on YouTube.”

“Really?” Denise asks.  For half-a-second, I feel important.

“Yeah,” I say.  “It, like, makes the flame spread easier or some shit.  Fires need oxygen and shit to catch or whatever.”

It’s cold onImage this fucking fountain.  Denise and I are both wearing in our winter clothes–her in a leather jacket that looks like someone took a baseball bat to it, and me in my dad’s old bomber fatigue, the one with a million pockets.  I’ve got so many chap sticks in here it isn’t even funny.  We’ve both got mittens on and we can feel the cold rusted fountain on our asses, even through our gap jeans.  

Sticks her fingers in her mouth and rips off one of her gloves.  She drops it into her lap and holds the tiny cabbage between her thumb and forefinger like my little brother holds marbles.  She pinches it until it cracks and breaks and when half of the… stuff… falls to the leafy ground she yells “FUCKING SMEGMA LICKER” with enough force that some birds take flight.

“Fuck that shit,” she say as she jams the rest of the weed into the pipe.  “Fuck that shit thoroughly.”  

She stuffs the last of the green stuff like it’s last night math worksheets and offers it to me.  “Let’s go, Buchanan.  Time to party.”

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