Book Club: Teen And Lit Issues In The Fault In Our Stars

the textbook towers background
the textbook towers background

This month, HuffPost Books is teaming up with our Teen editors to read John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. You can follow our conversations and leave your own thoughts on our discussion page.

To start off the reading, Andrew, our Books editor and Liz, from our Teen section, have both shared their thoughts on why this book has had an impact on their respective communities.

Andrew says...

There are many themes and ideas within The Fault in Our Stars. In this post, I'm going to focus on two: books, and faith.

Reading and stories are vital to the tale:

* The title itself comes from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings." (other works to do the same include Frederick Forsyth's book The Dogs of War, a book about the Civil War and a Star Trek episode)

* The driving force of the narrative is centered around a fictional book, An Imperial Affliction, which speaks to the characters' suffering in a way that other stories don't ("Cancer books suck," says Hazel at one point) due to its tone and realism. How much an author has true knowledge of his characters becomes an important theme.

* There are also references to Beckett, Kierkegaard, a Richard Hugo poem, Finnegans Wake, Thoreau... it's a very literary book, without being too pretentious about its subtle nods. MetaTFIOS does a wonderful job of detailing many of the references.

* The story is in many ways about the inevitability of narrative, the cancer diagnosis setting real-world rules about what has to occur in the book's fictional setting - which leads the protagonists into a search for heroism and meaning in their journey, and within a fictional book of their own, even as their ending is predestined. In his book The Stories We Live By, psychologist Dan P. McAdams states that we all create our own personal myths as a way of helping us interpret the world and our place in it. In many ways, The Fault in Our Stars is an examination of how two teenagers try to take ownership of their stories, even while unable to escape their inevitable narrative arcs.

Take a moment to think about it all, then let me know your thoughts in the comments. (NB "I like cake" and "Kittens are cuddly" are both perfectly reasonable responses to these somewhat huge ponderings)

Liz says...

I finished reading The Fault In Our Stars on the subway, right as the train pulled into my station. I walked to my apartment with heavy grocery bags in tow, letting the book sink in. I cried for Hazel and Augustus and on every block, people stopped to ask, "Are you okay?" (This only made me cry harder.) Then, a random passerby stopped me, unzipped his backpack and handed me a bottle of beer. I just said, "Thanks." We both kept walking.

Later, I tweeted about my strange, vaguely TFIOS-related New York moment and received responses from followers who had similar meltdowns. But Rebekah, one of HuffPost Teen's high school bloggers from Ohio, responded to me by sharing her own story that stopped me in my tracks: "I read it when my doctor was talking about the possibility I had cancer. Read it five more times waiting for the results."

Rebekah is a "nerdfighter," one of John Green's young, devoted Internet followers. On Tumblr, YouTube and beyond, their voices "fight against suck," "fight for awesome," and, I hope, will help guide the Book Club conversation this month. (If you are a nerdfighter who would like to get involved, please email us here.) I was asked to write this post because I am the editor of HuffPost Teen, and The Fault In Our Stars is a book about young people. But it is not a book about the mythical "teenage experience" for "young adults," it is a book for all adults -- be they high school students or otherwise.

With this in mind, I'm interested in learning how you react -- and relate -- to the characters and their relationships with each other as you read the story.

And, Hazel Grace. You will not be able to shake her for days and days after you have finished the book and you will ask yourself why. Please tell me, if you figure it out.

I will also share one practical suggestion, from my personal experience: If you can, read it on the subway. Everyone should experience good, loud public cry over an effing awesome book at least once.

Some big questions:

  • Do you feel like Hazel has a real understanding of how her mom feels? For me, their interactions were by far the most (subtly) heartwrenching -- and heartwarming -- in the book.
  • How did you feel about how Hazel's dad, who is pretty much always crying, coped with her illness? Hazel talks about him less, but they have a powerful conversation near the end of the book that made me want to go back and re-read their earlier scenes together.
  • Crooked smile aside, what was it about Augustus what made him so compelling to Hazel?
  • How much does it change the motivation of a character when they know that their narrative is predestined to end soon?
  • How much is this book about maintaining a level of autonomy and spontaneity in the face of that inevitability, even just for what Hazel describes as "a little infinity"?
  • Is true meaning what we insert into the spaces around the predetermined tale that is our own mortality?

Reply to these questions on our discussion page and we'll select a few favorites to lead next week's discussion.