I decided to read something by John Green at the recommendation of two of my students. I actually bought Will Grayson, Will Grayson first, but I started with The Fault in Our Stars, which is shorter.
It is the story of 16-year-old Hazel, who is fighting cancer. She falls in love with Gus, whom she meets at the Church Support Group. Their relationship gives them strength during the ups and downs of a very difficult process, and although the ending is bleak, the book is as much about hope as it is about fate. It is emotional, but humour is a big part of the book. The way people handle tough situations obviously differs across cultures, and theirs seems to be healthier than how we do in Turkey – basically give up on living the present in order to mourn the future.
The book reminded me of this memoir called Mavi Saçlı Kız (The Girl with Blue Hair). It’s a real life story, in the form of diary entries, from Burçak Çerezcioğlu, who died of leukemia at 16. I only remember fragments from the book, I was in high school when I read it – but I do remember crying. That was a more serious read, of course, not only because there were fewer jokes but also because it was real.
I did cry with this one as well, but the plot has enough turns to keep you engaged, other than playing to your emotions. So it’s more than just a “cancer book.” It kept me up one night – I finished it at 03:20 am. I can see how this could be a multi-million bestseller; it was number two in the bestsellers chart when I bought it in Copenhagen a few weeks ago, although it’s been two years since the book was published.
I discovered, halfway through the book, that there’s been a film. Peter Bradshaw calls it phoney and crass. His main point is that the couple’s illness doesn’t seem to give them any discomfort; they look superb at all times (but, I mean, it’s a Hollywood film). Towards the end of the book, there are some scenes where Gus looks less than charming, but I don’t know what the director made of them.
The book is stylistically interesting as well – the narrative perspective is in perfect tune with the register; not only in the dialogues and the narration, but also in the intertextual references (which are also fictional). Hazel’s favourite book is called An Imperial Affliction, by an invented author called Peter van Houten. She and Gus keep quoting the book – because they’re supposed to be nerdy – but those lines struck me as pretentious and cheesy. They later meet van Houten, who also speaks in this incoherently bombastic way. But I don’t think those quotes from the book were not exactly my idea of highbrow because John Green couldn’t write any better – it’s teenagers’ idea of an important book. (Plus, they happen to be emotionally needy teenagers who seek self-affirmation.)
I’m not going to quote any passages in order to avoid spoilers but I’ve earmarked pages 166, 223 and 263. I’d only watch the film if the DVD ends up on the “reduced price” desk in a bookshop or something, and that would be for the sake of seeing how much of the book they’ve used in the script. But, I’m definitely going to read Will Grayson, Will Grayson soon.