This is the conversation that took place about ten minutes after I finished The Fault in Our Stars, when one of my closest friends came over for our weekly dinner:
Me: So I just finished this book, and I’m still having a lot of feelings. If I just randomly start crying…
Her: I love that book! I’ve read it twice. I’ve never cried harder for a book than I did for that one.
Me: So if I just freak out about it for the next hour…?
Her: That’s totally fine.
Thank God for friends who understand what it’s like to get uncomfortably over-invested in books.
Although, to be honest, if you read this book and didn’t cry, I’m not sure I could be friends with you. I mean, it’s a book about kids with cancer. And it’s a good book about kids with cancer, which means that John Green knows exactly how to take your heart and pulverize it, all the while making you laugh. And by “you,” I mean “me.” Obviously. I don’t know what your heart is like. Maybe you went into this book without knowing it would be about kids with cancer, and the whole situation caught you totally off-guard. Maybe you don’t get Green’s sense of humor, in which case, again, I don’t know what to tell you. (Because he’s wonderful, and I’m so glad he has more books out for me to fall in love with.)
I, on the other hand, went into it knowing exactly what I was getting into. I’ve seen a thousand gifs and heard all the most popular quotes. I was fully prepared for a story about star-crossed teenage love. I told myself I was only doing this so I would know what other people were talking about when it came up in conversation. Even as I was reading it, I was completely under control. I had decided that the only people who got emotional about this story were the ones who knew nothing about it before they started. I was a rock. I could handle it.
When will I ever learn?
Fast forward to about forty pages from the end. Those of you who have read this book probably know exactly what part I’m thinking of, and for those of you who haven’t, well, I don’t want to spoil it, but the kids have cancer – feel free to use your imaginations to fill in the myriad plot points that could arise out of such a story. It’s okay. I’ll wait. Got them? Good, now that you’re with us, maybe you’ll understand why I was laying on the floor of my living room crying my eyes out.
My favorite line of the novel was repeated often (and therefore does not count as a spoiler) – “The world is not a wish-granting factory.” This line, it turns out, comes in handy when reading a book like this one. I kept saying, “But I don’t want that to happen!” And as if on cue, I would be reminded that “the world is not a wish-granting factory.” (But I want it to be! But it’s not. But! No.)
I love that about this book. It reminds me that there are the things in this life that we want, and there are the things we can have, and the two circles do not always overlap. It doesn’t mean we give up. To me, it means we try harder, and we appreciate, with every ounce of our being, when those circles do slip over each other. Because sometimes, kids have cancer that can’t be cured. And desperately needed jobs only take a day to lose. Our bodies may betray us. Our friends and family won’t understand what we need them to understand. Loss is a constant because the world is not a wish-granting factory. That fact will never not hurt, and there will never be a solution to every problem for every person. The world is not a wish-granting factory. John Green sure got that right.
But he also wrote a book that made me desperately happy for the small precious moments in life. His characters didn’t save the world. They were just ordinary teenagers who also happened to have cancer destroying their bodies from the inside out. And yet. They found a way to have good days. They found a way to appreciate the moments that weren’t made of pain. They rose above futile wishes and continued to live their lives. To me, that’s the most heroic way a person can live. Some of us may get the chance to do something momentous one day, but most of us will just live quietly. We can choose to regret that, or not. I choose not. I like the details of life so much more than the broad brush strokes anyway.
John Green has written what is, essentially, my Catcher in the Rye. Now, before you rise up against me for saying that, let me explain: I didn’t get Holden Caulfield when I was fifteen, and it made me angry that I was supposed to and couldn’t. Of course, I get him now, and all I can think is what a blessing it was that I didn’t understand back then. Life had been exceedingly kind to me, and I hadn’t earned that book yet. The book I needed then was this one. I had experienced unexplained physical pain since I was five. I had a family I cherished that I never wanted to hurt or disappoint. I had known too much death. I needed Hazel and Augustus and Isaac. I needed to know that other kids had lost and lost and lost and yet still managed to maintain their sense of humor and passion. I hadn’t dived into the darkness of the world, but I had paddled along its edges. I needed books that would guide me a little deeper, but carefully, and with love. This would have been that book for me.
For more about John Green, head over here.