Monday, April 7, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars (2012)

I was pushed really really hard into reading The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. Asia, my 11-year-old niece, wrote the title on all of my note lists. She asked me about it every time we saw each other. She told me it was the Best. Book. Ever. That I HAVE TO READ IT NOW!

So, with that pressure on my back, I finally took the time to download the book and started reading it. It's not often I come across a book I read non-stop until finished. It's not often I take a book (hidden on my iPad) to meetings and read a page or two under the table when the conversation becomes dull. It's not often the whole family reads a book and talks about it during long distance phone calls.

This book is considered children's literature. Really? It's about two kids, teenagers, both dying of cancer. They are smart, clever, deep, intellectual, and care about each other and the big questions. What happens when you die? Is it important (or even possible) to do something heroic that makes your life worthwhile or are we all destined to oblivion any way?

To give you more information about this "amazing book" Asia wants you to read (or else), I now turn my review over to a Q&A session with Asia "the great and powerful"...

Asia, The Fault in Our Stars is a love story. What do Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters mean when they tell each other every thing is okay? When Hazel and Augustus say everything is okay, they are referring to their friends, Isaac and Monica, who tell each other "always" so that they will "always" be there for each other. Hazel and Gus mix this statement around to create their own "always;" it is okay.

Which scene in the book do you remember and love the most? The scene from this book that I remember most is Augustus' pre-funeral. SPOILER ALERT!!! I loved this scene because the connection between Augustus and Hazel is emphasized in a way that you understand what they are going through.

Why do you think Augustus carries a cigarette in his mouth but never lights it? Augustus is a very metaphorical person. In the book, Augustus says that he is putting the killing thing in his mouth (the cigarette) but not giving it the power to kill (lighting it). It's a metaphor.

What do you think Hazel means when she says she is like a grenade? Hazel has cancer in her lungs. When she says she is like a grenade, she is stating that one day she is going to blow up and obliviate everything in her wake and she doesn't want to hurt anyone.

Are you glad you found out that Sisyphus the Hamster ended up okay? Yes, because at least when Hazel and Gus went to Amsterdam they weren't totally disappointed.

Even though the "world is not a wish-granting factory," if you had a Genie foundation wish, what would you ask for? I don't know what I would do with my wish. I have a good life so I would probably give my wish to someone who needs it more than me.

Do you think Augustus chose a visit to Amsterdam because he wanted to give Hazel her wish or do you think he chose Amsterdam because he wanted to make Hazel fall in love with him? Or both? I think both because Augustus is a very charismatic person and he wants Hazel to have a good life before she dies but Gus has very strong feelings for Hazel and the trip to Amsterdam shows his affection for her.

Why do you think we like to read sad stories that make us cry? Because it's real life. Real life is hard and it will make you cry. But it also makes you laugh and smile. That is what I love most about this book. You are crying because Hazel is sick or because Gus dies, but you are laughing at the jokes and you feel happy when you think about the love they share for each other!


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Love Story (1970)

Having recently read The Fault in Our Stars, I decided to revisit the love story that broke the young romantic hearts of my generation: Erich Segal's Love Story.

I will say up front and center: The Fault is better. The writing style is more sophisticated. The characters are more developed. The story deals with death more intimately and much more realistically. The connection between Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters is deeper and more heartfelt than the relationship between Oliver and Jenny, even though they are all supposed to be intellectuals of some sort.

Love Story is almost still an outline. The story was published too soon and still needs work. It isn't finished! Yes, it's a classic but it can never be called literature. The success of the story in 1970 must have been due to timing. Jenny was ethnic in an era when the blonde-haired blue-eyed standard of beauty was being challenged by the "other." It was what we wanted to read and see at the time.

Here's a brief summary of the story: Harvard jock meets Radcliffe music student. Oliver Barrett IV has generations of wealth and accomplishment behind him. Jenny Cavalleri is the daughter of an Italian baker, although her father is specifically not an immigrant and does not speak Italian. The social gap between the lovers is wide but the disparity of their class is part of what attracts them to each other. They date, marry while still in school against the wishes of Oliver's parents, and then struggle to make ends meet. Oliver achieves success with his wife's help and then - blam - she dies.

The heart of this story is about Oliver and his father, not about Oliver and Jenny. 

Oliver gets good grades, excels in sports, but is angry at his father because he gets no recognition for his accomplishments. Oliver is expected to do well because he's a Barrett and generations of Barretts have always done well. There's even an underlying suggestion that many of Oliver's accomplishments are due, not to his personal efforts, but instead due to his last name and the financial contributions made by his father.

Jenny is this perfect character with no apparent faults. Everyone in the neighborhood loves her. She sleeps with Oliver without expecting a relationship. She marries Oliver when he's broke and then helps her husband through law school. Jenny doesn't even suffer tremendously when she becomes ill and only asks to be held tightly right before she dies.

Jenny's illness and death scene is shorter and less detailed than Oliver's opening hockey games which play no significant part in the story. (And what's with the doctor telling Oliver that Jenny is sick and asking him to keep the information to himself? WTF? My God, times really have changed.)

Love Story is about how Oliver stands up to his father, makes his way in the world, graduates third in his class without his father's assistance, learns the value of money, and then acknowledges the unconditional love he feels for his father after he has matured and become a successful man in his own right. With a little more work, Love Story might have been a work of literature but probably not the great success it was in theaters.