I’m a little late jumping on the John Green love bandwagon, and I don’t want to dwell on it, but let’s just say I read Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars and started watching his video blog and now I adore him.
One thing I noticed with The Fault in Our Stars is how this book is both very sad (the main character, Hazel, is 16-years-old with terminal cancer who falls in love with a boy who’s had his leg amputated from his own cancer) and very, very funny. Often, these two things occur simultaneously, like when Hazel finds out she’ll be able to go on a trip to Amsterdam, and she says to her lungs (which don’t function properly) “Keep your shit together.” Green does this in bigger ways, too, resulting in scenes that must have been so difficult to craft but wind up revealing something so very true about people.
There is one scene in particular that I have been quoting to people since I read it, because it struck me as very empathetic, harsh, sad, and also kind of funny. Hazel is talking with her friend Isaac, who has just had his second eye removed because of his own cancer. Prior to the surgery, his girlfriend broke up with him, “so she wouldn’t have to dump a blind guy.” Now, he’s trying to figure out why she won’t get together with Augustus, who she obviously really likes.
“Do you like him?” Isaac asked.
“Of course I like him. He’s great.”
“But you don’t want to hook up with him?”
I shrugged. “It’s complicated.”
“I know what you’re trying to do. You don’t want to give him something he can’t handle. You don’t want him to Monica you.”
“Kinda,” I said. But it wasn’t that. The truth was, I didn’t want to Isaac him. “To be fair to Monica,” I said, “what you did to her wasn’t very nice, either.”
“What’d I do to her?” he asked, defensive.
“You know, going blind and everything.”
“But that’s not my fault,” Isaac said.
“I’m not saying it was your fault. I’m saying it wasn’t nice.“
At first glance, this seems pretty harsh, as it looks like Hazel’s blaming Isaac for getting dumped. But really, she’s just pointing out the truth — for a 16-year-old girl, having your boyfriend go suddenly blind is an emotional shock, the need to be there for him is overwhelming, and while it’s obviously harder for Isaac, he can’t get out of the situation, while she can. This is where the subtle humor comes in, through Hazel’s deadpan assertion that, even though Isaac can’t help it, his cancer (which, as other parts of the book establish, is a part of the sick person, is the sick person) is being pretty mean to his girlfriend. You may cringe, but you also have to chuckle. And then you understand the truth. Most people can’t handle a situation like this, it’s overwhelming, and causes them to be bad people and dump their sick boyfriends, so no, it’s not a nice thing to do to them. It’s really sad, kind of funny, and ultimately empathetically honest about what people are really like.