Wednesday, July 9, 2014


You're lucky to be reading this.  The chances of me posting anything this week were looking awfully slim.  After a rip-roaring time with friends last Friday night, we awoke to a stifling house Saturday morning.  I pause here for a few photos of the rip-roaring good time we had celebrating July 4th:

We joined some friends from church to eat, enjoy the unbelievably pleasant July Louisiana weather (no sarcasm!), & sing some devotional songs.

When I say "sing devotional songs," what I mean is play with this fireman's hat Reagan found among her friend's toys:

When the fireman's hat lost its luster, they fought over Henry's cracker:

A truce was reached when they decided it was fun for Henry to feed Reagan:

So, our stifling house.  This past Saturday morning I was briefly worried I was entering menopause early until the thermostat confirmed that something was amiss with the air conditioner.  Given that it was not only a Saturday, but a holiday weekend, there was no hope of restoring the air conditioner, so I began the laborious process of packing for three people & a small dog.  By the time my car was loaded with bags, diapers, insulin, children, & the small dog, the thermostat in the house had inched up to 80 degrees.  We ensconced ourselves in my parents' home, where we entertained ourselves with irony by watching Frozen at least ten times.  My parents harbored us until Monday afternoon when the air conditioner was mercifully fixed.  Trey told me what was wrong, but I don't really remember what he said.  It works now; that's what matters.  

In addition to the air conditioning woes, I have a date with Queen later this week (as in Brian May, "We Will Rock You" Queen, not of England) for which I will be traveling, so my focus this week has basically been two-fold: air conditioning / go see Queen.  This doesn't leave much time to pontificate about life or what I'm reading (still in Russia, folks), however, Sunday afternoon while the kids & I were enjoying my parents' air conditioning, I received an intriguing email.  

If you read this blog & I get on your nerves & you find yourself wanting to argue with me, well, today's your big day.  I told you a friend, whose name is Angela, indicated her interest in replying to my little rant about John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, &, with her permission, her words are below.  About a month ago, I posted what can loosely be called a review of Green's novel in which I lodge three complaints.  It's here if you want to read the whole thing, but the gist is this:  First, Green mocks Christians & Christianity.  On this first point, Angela & I agree.  Second, & most irritating to me, is a lack of any real character growth on the part of the novel's narrator, Hazel.  My final gripe is that Green does not accurately give voice to his teenage, female narrator, Hazel.  What follows is Angela's response (the highlighted portion is my doing).  

I will start by saying that I agree with you totally on the cynicism.  He does take several jabs throughout the book at religion and people who have any beliefs at all.  He does miss an opportunity to have Hazel, or her parents for that matter, to realize the gravity of her impending death, especially after the death of Gus, to have a desire to seek out a Higher Power or , at the very least, ask questions.  It is totally disregarded as weak-mindedness.  
But you stated that you felt Hazel had not changed or grown as a character throughout the novel. You also stated that Green does not "successfully voice a teenage girl".  In this, I disagree.  As you know, I am currently living in bliss with two seventeen year olds myself.  (Please take the time to re read that last statement, but this time do it in a very sing song voice while also dripping it in sarcasm.  If you find this difficult to do, please spend time with more seventeen year olds.  They make excellent tutors.)  That being said, I should tell you that the well rounded, well spoken, goal oriented, "got my life totally together" seventeen year old is few and far between.   The typical conversation at my house is usually something to do with clothes and hair and how those things affect them on a particular day.  Oh, there are discussions concerning religion, economics, politics, and literature...mostly one sided.  
As a nurse,  I can tell you that children diagnosed with a terminal illness are typically more mature than others of the same age.  I have had conversations with 5 year olds about white blood counts, medications, and treatment options that would put adults to shame.  This doesn't mean that they don't also throw temper tantrums to get milkshakes.  
I do believe it has a lot to do with parenting.   Hazel has parents who love her but they are not taking her to church or insisting she seek out the meaning of life.  Kids live the life we set out for them by example. I wouldn't expect Hazel to come across any less than she did.  She is smart, well read, witty, but also very  sarcastic and self-centered.  Although the former description of her  does not change, I felt the later did.  For example, in the beginning of the book, she was very reclusive and obsessed only with the things that directly affected her.  This, of course, being the typical seventeen year old.  In the duration of the novel she comes out of her self-absorbed world and cares for another. We see her open herself up, experience love for another, even though she is fearful of being "a grenade".  She helps to clean his vomit, doesn't flinch when he wets the bed, comes to his rescue when he calls out to her.  This is a girl who  witnesses the business of dying and  does not shy away, not because she fears it for herself, she has stated that she does not fear death, only the wake she will leave behind, but because she loves him enough to endure it with him...for him.   We even see her make another friend, Issac, who we see her continue a relationship with after Gus' funeral.  At the funeral, she gives way to what she wanted to say in exchange for something else.  She could have read her pre written eulogy that discusses her deep love for Gus but that would have only made people feel sorry for HER loss.  Instead, she quotes  Encouragements  found on the walls of Gus' house.  She did this for his parents, so they would feel they had helped and made a difference.  To quote Hazel, "Funerals, I had decided, are for the living."   
As for the book she is obsessed with, An Imperial Affliction, I feel that it is her way to have control over something when she cannot control the aftermath of her own death.  Yes, another missed opportunity for character growth, but, again, speaking truthfully to the mind of a seventeen year old, "It's all about me!".  She desperately wanted answers to questions concerning Anna's mother, the Dutch Tulip Man, her friends, and Sisyphus the Hamster.  She does experience some relief during a conversation with her parents when, after several things are said, including a statement she had overheard her mother say when she was younger and on the brink of death, she finds out that her mother is back in school and has plans to continue helping others, even after her daughter passes.  The fact that she wants happiness for her parents after her passing, I think, makes for another small bit of character growth.  
Although I would have written a few things differently, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and I enjoyed seeing the world through Hazel's eyes. 

I read her response Sunday night after the kids were asleep.  If you're paying attention, you know we were all tucked in at my parents' house Sunday evening, reveling in all the cool air.  I sat up in bed & audibly made sounds akin to Huh . . . Hmmm.  Her words left me a bit befuddled, my mind in overdrive, & the situation was compounded by the fact that my laptop was sweating it out at my house, & thus I had no word processor with which to deal with my feelings. 

When I read The Fault in Our Stars, I was looking for some specific changes in Hazel (I admit I sometimes have ridiculous expectations of characters, but I know they can't all read people's thoughts & sparkle in the sunlight), & since I didn't see those changes by the end of the book, I dismissed her, & her creator, Mr. Green.  Admittedly because of his penchant for mocking Christianity, Green's writing will likely never be at the top of my reading list.  What Angela astutely points out is that, given Hazel's age, coupled with an absence of spiritual guidance from her parents, it is improbable that Hazel experience the life (& eternity) altering milestones I had high hopes of her achieving by novel's end.  Angela wisely asserts that, "Kids live the life we set out for them by example."  This is true of Hazel, & also true for nonfiction kids, such as the five Angela is raising.  Luckily for her children, Angela is a better example than are Hazel's parents (she makes her kids do horrible things like read, think, & go to church).  Despite her not meeting my lofty expectations, Hazel does grow to love Augustus, & she does not shy away from the pain & ugliness of his death, even while dealing with the inevitability of her own, & the Hazel we meet in the novel's opening pages would not have done this.         

In my limited experience sending query letters to literary agents, I've learned that one thing they want you to tell them (in as few words as possible) is why you are the person to write the book you've written.  This is obviously important if you're pitching nonfiction, but it's still significant in the fiction world, & it extends beyond any previous publications & other professional writing or awards.  Essentially, even if they are interested in the story you're telling, they want to know why you are the perfect person to tell it.  I thought about this when I read the above email because Angela is perhaps the ideal person to offer a critique of Green's work, given that she is raising not one, but two young ladies who are Hazel's age, & she is a nurse who regularly interacts with people facing dire situations such as Hazel's.  As C.S. Lewis said, "What you see and what you hear depends a good deal on where you are standing.  It also depends on what sort of person you are."  Where this novel is concerned, Angela's perspective is more insightful than mine.  It's no wonder she has strong feelings about the book & wanted to respond to me.  If John Green writes a novel about a thirty-something woman who relies too heavily on coffee & loses all sense of time & personal responsibility when she's reading a great book, well then, I will obviously be in a stellar position to critique that novel.

Sometimes I am dense.  It's true.  In our discussions about the book, it didn't occur to me that Angela's experiences with her own twin teenage daughters, or her experiences with terminally ill patients, might color her view of the novel.  Dense, right?  I don't often have a chance to use this word, & I love it, so I will now say, how myopic of me.  It makes me wonder in what other situations does the obvious completely escape me (if you want to email me a reply to that question, feel free, but I do not promise to post your thoughts to the blog).  I become very attached to my opinions of books, & I don't let them go easily, so kudos to you, Angela.   

Today's moral: it is important to read books, & it is important to discuss books with others.  In my head, life is one big literature classroom.  I've decided that that which we think divides us does not in fact divide us.  You know the usual suspects.  Gender.  Race.  Religion.  Politics.  Team Edward/Team Jacob.  There are truly only two groups in this world, only one division that matters: readers & non-readers, & the readers have all the advantages.  Readers don't have to leave their house to travel the world (or to experience falling in love during the siege of Leningrad), they are never at a loss for conversation, & if you give them about five minutes in a crowded room, they will all gravitate toward one another, & you'll know them by their impressive vocabulary, animated gestures, & occasional shrieks.  Reagan, Henry, I not only want you to love to read, & read anything & everything, I want you to surround yourself with people who read.  Befriend readers.  Date readers.  Marry a reader.  Readers rule the world . . . or they will, as soon as they finish the next chapter.     


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