After Pennsylvania’s $60 million in film tax credits were renewed earlier this month, the first movie that was set to film in Pittsburgh using those tax incentives was The Fault in Our Stars, based on John Green’s novel. I figured I’d better read this if movie studios think it’s great enough to create a major motion picture.
I’m a big fan of books. I read just about every day and I fall asleep with a book in my hand. I cling to characters like family and read every word of the acknowledgements when I don’t want it to end. When they make a movie out of a book, I believe the book is almost always better.
I finished it in less than a week. I couldn’t stop turning the pages–I laughed and I cried and I went through half a box of tissues. It was just as good as the news articles and the Facebook posts had claimed it to be. I like cynical characters for some reason—characters who see the truth and harsh reality of a situation rather than the silver lining. So I fell in love with Hazel from the first page. And I fell in love with Augustus because he looked for that silver lining and tried so hard to get Hazel to see it.
In this sad and moving story about the teenage struggle with cancer, I saw Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. If you take the snapshot scenes where Kate, the sister with leukemia, falls in love with a sick boy from the hospital, and then draw it out into a full-blown novel, this would be that novel.
And I’m not complaining. That story was also beautiful and sad and compelling.
But what I loved was that this book talks about what it means to be human. Whether we are here to make a difference in the world. Whether we will do something dramatic to affect a large group of people, or just one person. This book raises that question—why are we here?
I think we all want to be remembered. We take pictures and post them for all to see. We write letters and diaries and blogs and emails. We keep items from our childhood and pass them along to children and grandchildren. We all try to be special, memorable, conspicuous. No one wants to think that they are born and they will die and that their life is and was pointless. But that is exactly how the kids in The Fault in Our Stars feel as they struggle with cancer at the ages of 16 and 17.
This story is the fight between two realms of thought. Augustus who thinks that he needs to be special to everyone, to do something spectacular and leave his mark; and Hazel who doesn’t want to mean anything to too many people for fear of hurting them, knowing that she won’t matter in the big picture.
Can their lives still be meaningful if they die at 17? If they never accomplish anything or cure anything or become anything? How will they be remembered?
John Green chooses to take the cynical view throughout most of the book, through the eyes of Hazel. She gives us this harsh, stark truth that is reality—that in this huge universe, in the entire course of time, we are tiny and insignificant. That not everyone is memorable. That people die without having really lived. That even if each living person remembers 14 dead people, all the people who have passed away in the history of Earth would still not be accounted for because many people remember one certain person and no one remembers others.
But as humans we can choose how we approach this truth. We can decide that our small life is unimportant or we can live our lives conspicuously. We can decide that a life where one person cares is better than the alternative. We can live by walking on eggshells or we can embrace the few around us and choose to be happy with what we are given. We can decide what is meaningful.
And this is generally the conclusion that Green comes to at the end of his book. His characters make this choice to ignore the stark statistics and to just live.
The Fault in Our Stars embraces love and sacrifice, heartache and disappointment and hope. And this is why I read every word of the acknowledgements, willing it not to end. I can only hope that the movie can be as emotional and thought-provoking as I perceived in my imagination.