When it comes to of-the-moment teen book series, I’m certainly a connoisseur. I eased through the Harry Potter stories, devoured the Hunger Games trilogy and – yes, sad to say – even gave the Twilight saga a spin back in the day.
None of these endeavors I really regret, either. There’s something glorious about being a guy in his mid-20s who can interact with “the younger folk” on what books they’re reading in their poster-filled bedrooms. Some grey-bearded psychologist may look into my actions as an attempt to feel more youthful, but in reality it’s just a guilty literary pleasure I have. Like the caramel-coated slice of cheesecake that follows a protein-filled meal, perhaps it isn’t the best long-term decision for use of time, but it feels right in the moment.
So, when I started to see “The Fault in Our Stars” pop up in the hands of numerous high school students in my different counties last year, I wanted to know from where all the fuss originated. I knew a film adaptation was on the horizon, and with it, subsequent buzz on the original story.
Still, the notion of “fun reading” involving kids with cancer didn’t have the same allure of death-defying wizards or young vampires in love. I carefully avoided picking up John Green’s novel throughout most of the school year until the final few weeks.
Then, I descended upon the great pasture that feeds all mainstream consumer sheep, Wal-Mart, and made my way to the very limited book section to pick up a copy. I’m at least proud to say I purchased the original hardcover version instead of the cheap, mass-market paperback with the film’s poster dominating the artwork.
And then, astonishment was realized. As I slowly began to consume the ill-fated romance of Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, two fictional Indianapolis-based teens with different forms of cancer, I understood what I was reading was not another serialized, fictional account meant for franchise potential and to create a imaginary world for its audience in the same vein of a Hogwarts.
No, this was something vastly different. For “A Fault in Our Stars” was a carefully constructed novel on the importance of life at any stage and the understanding the love we share with anyone, no matter how personal or public, is in a way its own immortality. Such themes may be lost to the some of the youngsters reading Green’s heavily acclaimed work, who will instead focus on the simple, sweet romance between the book’s two leads.
What we ultimately end up with is not necessarily a Middle America Romeo and Juliet so much as a modern take on the principle of appreciating the physical and emotional beauty in front of you. And, in the digital age, where so often we find ourselves exploring the pictorial lives of others and daydreaming about an existence constantly spent vacationing, such an idea is pivotal.
Much like the book, I put off seeing the movie, as well. Early on, I didn’t feel like being in a jam-packed theater with a bunch of teenage girls – some of which would’ve been my students – and their mothers. As time progressed, I ignored its release because I didn’t feel like crying. I’d confronted enough death in my own life in recent years, and the idea of going into a dark theater and balling my eyes out to fictional demises didn’t seem like the most attractive way to spend a summer afternoon.
How pleased I was this last week when I finally did make that trip into the theater and saw how the film cleverly executed what the book had accomplished: I left the cinema that day with more of an appreciation of the life I had and the love I shared more than the depression of those faces and voices no longer here.
Explanation of phenomenon like Harry Potter is fairly simple; man has always had a love for fantasy and escapism. This was especially true over the last decade, as wars abroad and economic turmoil at home made the proposition of diving into a good book or gluing your eyes to a silver screen all the more wanted.
But what about the fascination with John Green’s novel about seemingly ordinary cancer-suffering characters whose lives aren’t glamorous? “The Fault in Our Stars” appeals to us for the same reason most modern spiritual self-help books do: it reminds us our small individual worlds we share with our close group of family and friends matter. Sure, they may not get the press of the Kardashians or have the historical prestige of the Royal Family.
As “The Fault in Our Stars” so brilliantly states, “some infinities are bigger than others.” That doesn’t make the “smaller infinities” any less of ones. As long as love continues to exist (and so I’ve been told on good authority, it always will in one form or another), the “infinites” all those who have partaken in its force have shared will continue on, as well.