For associate professor of English and philosophy Eva Thury, it all started on Pinterest. It was on this social sharing website that she found a new favorite author, John Green. After pinning a quote of his to her board labeled “So True,” Thury was inspired to learn more about Green. Her research eventually led her to his best-selling book, The Fault in Our Stars.
Why did you choose this book and what is it about?
I first heard about him on Pinterest, I found a quote of his and I didn’t know who he was so I looked it up. The quote is “People can always hurt you. There is always something people can say to you that will sting and that will get to you and that will elicit some response that you just can’t stop yourself from responding to. Imagine the other complexly.” That’s what got me excited about John Green.
The book is categorized as young adult fiction, a genre I teach here at Drexel. The story follows a group of teenagers with cancer. The main character, Hazel Grace, joins a support group for teenagers with cancer and, although she is very cynical about it and very critical of it, she meets a young man there that she falls in love with. At the beginning of the story, she has the worse prognosis; her cancer is essentially incurable but she is being kept alive by a drug that controls the tumors. The young man she falls in love with has had a leg amputated but, other than that, he’s fine. Its turns out that, in the course of the story, he has a recurrence and then dies and she has to deal with his death.
What do you find particular important/enjoyable about the book?
There are really sad things happening to these people who are so young. Many of their friends have died. The book represents the way that today’s young adult fiction treats death much more directly—it doesn’t skirt around the fact that people die. I think that represents a change in our society.
John Green shows immense compassion through very elegant writing; I was just very taken with this book. It’s hard to call a book like this “delightful” because it’s such a hard subject, but it is delightful. It’s refreshing to read something that doesn’t try to pull the wool over your eyes.
The writing style is lyrical and beautiful, but what’s brilliant about it is the way Green constructs the story. In the novel, Hazel Grace and her boyfriend, Augustus, go on a road trip to Amsterdam to ask their favorite author what happens after the end of his best-known book. They are steeped in a world that uses literature to try to figure out the meaning of life, and in particular, the meaning of their lives. And they get the answers to their questions, but not in the way that they expect.
All of the oppositions of the various themes that come together make it a really wonderful book. The issues include the dark nature of life, the significance of fiction, as well as growing up and becoming an adult—all of those things are told in a story that’s really simple in some ways. But the complexity and richness of its themes really carry the story.
Has the book lived up to your expectations?
Oh yes, it was very satisfying. There are books that you read three-quarters of the way through and then you just slog through the rest because the author didn’t know how to end it. This book is not like that; it is every bit satisfying. It never panders to you, it never patronizes you, it never treats you like it can slap a sappy ending on a story like this. But it does give you hope. In the midst of the acknowledgement of the pain of living it leaves you with a hope that is not corny. That’s very important to young people now. If a book becomes corny, they as readers become very unhappy.
Is there a passage or a quote you find particularly interesting?
When Augustus is dying, he says he wishes that his life could be like the movie 3oo that shows the battle between the Persians and Spartans, and the Persians are clearly, "the bad guy." But he and Hazel agree that life isn't like that: there are no good guys and bad guys, just people you have to imagine complexly, as the quote I first found says. Hazel concludes, “Even cancer isn’t the bad guy, really. Cancer just wants to be alive.”
In this quote, there is a kind of acceptance and understanding of the nature of the universe that goes with being infinitely sad about your mortality and yet also understanding and accepting it. You are sad that you are dying but you understand you live in a complex world that contains more than just your struggle, more than just your ego.