RTW: Book of the Month, March 2012

As is traditional on the last Road Trip Wednesday of the month, the YA Highway ladies want to knowย What was the best book you read in March?

I seem to be making a habit of choosing one book as the book of the month, and then giving a shout-out to another book I read and enjoyed. Well, this month is no different. It may come as a bit of a surprise, but my shout-out book for this month is THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green. I know for many, this would have been hands-down their book of the month, and it very nearly was for me. The writing is exquisite. John Green is a talented writer, and he definitely knows how to write contemporary YA in a way that is entertaining, relatable, and thoughtful. Every aspiring writer would do well to study John Green’s novels, and this one in particular. He nails the voice, and develops the characters well. He also tackles a very emotional and potentially awkward topic with style, honesty, and compassion. There is much to commend in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS.

However, the book doesn’t get my book of the month because there were some philosophical issues that I couldn’t get past. If you don’t know already, the main characters in the book are teens with various forms of cancer, so issues of pain, life, and death are front and center throughout the novel. I’m not a secular humanist, and so I found my worldview clashing quite dramatically with the worldview of this book, which is very humanist. If you’re not sure what I mean by that, let me give an example. One of the characters expresses the idea that even if your life doesn’t impact the world, if it impacts one life, that’s enough. This is a fine sentiment, and I think there is truth to that–but that’s hardly a satisfactory ultimate reason for existence. It seems to me the view put forward by the book is that the here-and-now is all that matters, and that you feel as if you’ve made a difference somehow. But this assumes the “here-and-now” is all that there is to care about, and there are dangerous consequences to this philosophy (“eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!”). Granted, the characters in the novel don’t pursue those dangerous consequences, but there is no reason given as to why they shouldn’t.

Also, whether intentional or not, I felt the role of faith and the religious community undermined–and perhaps even belittled–throughout. Again, John Green may not have intended this. But I don’t recall any of the teenage characters having a faith-based response to their illness, or even a sympathetic view of faith in the midst of suffering. This, for me, is the most important aspect of this subject, and for it not to be taken seriously (as I felt it wasn’t) was hugely disappointing.

I’m not critiquing the book for not being Christian–there are plenty of books I enjoy (and have made “book of the month”) that are not from a Christian worldview. Rather, it’s the fact that the book attempted to tackle important issues, and yet overlooked, or at least failed to deal satisfactorily with, important alternative perspectives. I appreciate that others, particularly those who share the worldview of the novel, won’t agree with me, but I’m just trying to be honest with you about why I can’t give this book “book of the month.”

So, my book of the month for March is… BREATH, EYES, MEMORY by Edwidge Danticat. The novel is about a Haitian girl who moves to be with her estranged mother in New York when she is twelve. After college, she returns to Haiti, and while there she faces uncomfortable truths about her family. This is a beautifully written book. Danticat, who is originally from Haiti herself, manages to transport the reader to Haiti through a relatively simple prose style. I’ve never been to Haiti, but this book was able to give me the atmosphere, the smells, and the culture of the country. The story itself is an interesting exploration of broken families and how they try to heal and move on within that culture. I wrote a review of the book last Monday, so you can read that if you want to know more about it.

What was your favorite read this month? Join in the Road Trip Wednesday fun at YA Highway!

47 thoughts on “RTW: Book of the Month, March 2012

  1. Mandy Aguilar

    Interesting take on TFiOS, Colin. I wonder what John Green would think of it, especially as he was working as a chaplain in a hospital when the idea for this book first took hold. He’s *so* deliberate about everything he writes, so I’m sure there’s a very well-thought-out reason that religion is left out of this book. I didn’t notice its absence when I was reading it, though, which is definitely something to ponder.

    My book club is discussing it next month, and I know we have several people of faith (including me) in the club. It will be interesting to see if this topic comes up in our discussion.

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      I don’t think he left out religion (e.g., the place where the support group meets), but I certainly felt it was sidelined. Perhaps because many responses to suffering and terminal sickness are from a faith perspective and he wanted to provide an alternative? Perhaps his experience was that many kids don’t relate to that point of view (which I would find sad)? I don’t know… however, I don’t think that’s good enough reason to dismiss that perspective in the way I felt he did. Again, that’s just my take. ๐Ÿ™‚

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      1. Mandy Aguilar

        Yeah, you’re right – I had forgotten about the meetings being held in the church (the “literal heart of Jesus” bit had me smiling a lot). Clearly I should reread before book club next month. ๐Ÿ˜€

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  2. Liz Parker

    Thanks for sharing! The Fault in Our Stars has been showing up a lot online lately. I haven’t heard of Breath, Eyes, Memory–I’ll have to look into it!

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      You’re welcome Liz! I was afraid my review of TFiOS would overshadow the book I actually picked, but given the popularity of TFiOS, I felt I needed to explain why it’s not my pick of the month. Yes–check out BREATH, EYES, MEMORY! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. E.Maree

    This is a well-written review Colin, you kept it very balanced despite the problems you found with it.

    I’m going to play devil’s advocate (heh) for TFIOS. To me, the “if it impacts one life, thatโ€™s enough” idea is basically saying: be nice to people. Which is why, instead of rushing off to do dangerous things because life is short, the protagonists live fairly normal lives focussed on their friendships. They’re trying to be good people, and to be nice to those around them.

    This is one of the things I think the book did really well: even though they’ve got a lot of anger to deal with, and this makes them lash out, they’re still fundamentally good and likable people.

    Regarding the cast’s lack of faith: I thought there was a brief mention of how they were too angry/frustrated with their circumstances and unfairness of their illnesses to have faith. Think it might have happened in the church where they had their survivors meetings. Did I imagine that scene? It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve accidentally filled in the blanks.

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      Thanks, Emma. Frankly, I’m glad the characters are likeable. This is one of John Green’s talents: his ability to write characters that are likeable, but real. Gus’s attitude is not always commendable, but he’s still a nice guy.

      I hear what you’re saying about them being nice to each other because life is short, and not lashing out in anger. But to me, that reflects one of the philosophical failings of the book. Why choose being nice over being angry? Ultimately, why does it matter, if the here-and-now is all there is? For some, venting anger, lashing out, and indulging in extreme behavior might be the most pleasurable way to live out one’s last days. John Green didn’t offer me a compelling reason why his characters didn’t go down that path, other than they just thought being nice would be a better way. Why? And since issues relating to death and ultimate truth are present throughout the book, I felt the absence of an answer to this.

      I don’t think you’re imagining that scene–it certainly rings bells with me. And I think that was a convenient way to dismiss a faith-based approach to illness. The kids are too angry with the perceived unfairness of their illness to have faith, so they’re going to look for answers and purpose elsewhere. Fair enough. But I know plenty of Christians who have been through this situation, so not to have a faith-based response reasonably represented in the book was, I felt, a serious omission.

      Reviews are very personal, and this book clearly hits lot of nerves with people. I’m sure there are some cancer sufferers who don’t like aspects of John Green’s presentation, as there are those that do. I will repeat and emphasize what I said at the beginning though: John Green is a talented writer, and there were plenty of things about this book I liked. What I discuss in my review are not reasons why I didn’t like the book, but reasons why it didn’t make my book of the month.

      Thanks for your feedback, and thoughtful response, Emma. ๐Ÿ™‚

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      1. E.Maree

        Nothing I love more than a good discussion. ๐Ÿ™‚

        I’ve seen a few people (random people on Tumblr, mostly) say that they’ve been unable to pick up the book because they have relatives/they themselves have cancer and it just felt **too personal**. They didn’t want to read about the kind of suffering they’re going through.

        I’ve been fortunate enough to not have anyone I’m extremely close to suffer fall victim to cancer, and I think that’s probably why this book didn’t affect me as deeply as it did others.

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  4. Jennifer Hoffine

    Interesting discussion! I do feel like the philisophical approach in this book is consistant with John Green’s past books. So, my guess would be that he is reflecting this book through his world view (which we all do to varying extents). Being “broad-minded” can be more “narrow-minded” than some of us humanists would like to believe;)

    Or, maybe he purposely left out cancer patients who go the “faith route” because that could lead the whole book into a different genre…it seems hard to address the faith issue in YA w/o turning it into a faith-based book…just like it’s hard to have a gay character w/o the book being considered a LGBT book…but things are changing, and I think you’re right that he should have included this perspective for at least one of the side characters…or maybe one of their parents…if nothing else, it would have provided good contrast for the protags who had different approaches to facing their deaths.

    Still, the message I loved most in this book is not to assume there’s a “right” way to face death…everyone deserves the respect of their own journey.

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      Thanks for your thoughts, Jennifer. As I said, I wasn’t expecting this to be a Christian book, and I think my problem would have been addressed if he had, as you suggest, offered the faith perspective through a side character, or even through a respected adult. I trust that John Green is gifted enough of a writer that he could have done this while being faithful to the perspective he wanted to promote.

      That said, and I can’t underscore this enough times, this was otherwise an excellent book, and I would recommend it.

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  5. Crystal

    You make some good points here about TFIOS, and to be honest, I hadn’t really thought of things from this perspective. But I wonder if John Green really had the responsibility to show all aspects of how one might handle the situation that these kids are in. Sure, some kids respond to tragedy and impending death with a faith-based perspective, but some don’t. Green isn’t necessarily writing a treatise on all of the ways that people can respond to having cancer. He’s writing about a few specific characters. And if you think about it, that Hazel doesn’t have intense feelings of faith would probably make her seek out others with her similar beliefs. So, if she was hanging around people with such differing perspectives, it might lead to some interesting discussions but it might also make the reader wonder why she’s going so against character for herself. She’s not open and loving–she’s cynical and sad. People like that don’t readily accept everyone under the sun.

    I don’t think Green was trying to alienate anyone. I think he was trying to show the lives of these two specific teens, with their own specific situations. Even though novels are often critiqued on themes and morality, etc, I don’t think that the writer has a responsibility to do anything more than tell a great story.

    As far as a reason for Hazel and Gus not going the “Eat, drink, be merry, for tomorrow we die” route, I think that they had some pretty deeply entrenched issues over hurting those around them–being grenades. Just because they live in the here and now, doesn’t mean that they didn’t acknowledge the effect their deaths would have–so if they went off the tracks, they’d just be hurting their loved ones in the long run. While it might not be as high-minded as doing good for a Higher Purpose, I think it’s still just as valid of a reason as any other.

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      Thank you for your thoughts, Crystal. One of the first thoughts I had was “am I being fair to John Green?” It’s true that this is a story of how two (perhaps three) teens in particular deal with cancer. Their lives and their story, regardless of worldview, is all that matters, surely? But I couldn’t get away from the fact that there is an underlying commentary throughout on the whole subject of death and what it means to live. Yes, it’s his primary responsibility to tell a great story, but he is also raising these big subjects, and if he’s going to do that, I think he is taking on the responsibility of handling them well.

      Since he sets the support group meetings in a church, and given the nature of some of the “encouragements” and some of the comments, there is an acknowledgement of a religious perspective. However, I honestly feel that he sidelined it, and not in an altogether respectful way, either. He didn’t need to make the main characters Christian, and he certainly didn’t need to represent every possible response to cancer, but since there are a great many people of faith who go through the same trials, not having at least one respected voice representing that perspective (even if it is not accepted by the main characters) was, in my view, a huge omission. I can’t imagine a cancer support group meeting in a church that doesn’t have at least one person that would call themselves a Christian.

      The point about Hazel and Gus not wanting to be “grenades” is a good one, and I will acknowledge that as being a reason why they didn’t go “off the rails.” I would argue that it’s still not a satisfying answer because it’s ultimately down to a personal choice: not wanting to cause what they perceived as hurt and pain to their loved ones. It doesn’t really address why this is a better choice, especially if the here-and-now is all that matters. That discussion may well be beyond the purview of the novel, but it still bothered me that there was no-one in the novel that even gave voice to the “higher purpose” perspective. And as I said, among a group of cancer survivors meeting in a church, I would expect at least one.

      As I’ve said above, TFiOS is a great novel, and deserves to be read. These issues are not issues that made me hate the book, they just dropped an otherwise 5-star novel down to 4-stars, and stopped it being my book of the month.

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      1. Crystal

        I totally recognize the ability to fundamentally disagree with something in a book, yet still like it. And I can definitely see where you’re coming from. Especially with this: “itโ€™s his primary responsibility to tell a great story, but he is also raising these big subjects, and if heโ€™s going to do that, I think he is taking on the responsibility of handling them well.”

        But I also think that Green did represent the religious perspective within the support group. The book was from Hazel’s perspective, so we don’t see a lot of it because she rejects the whole group at face value–along with their faith and convictions. The fact that the group is held in a chuch, and that they do the holding-hands-praying thing at the end made me assume that the support group IS mostly religious. Especially the group leader. Hazel and Gus just didn’t accept that same perspective, and therefore Green didn’t have as much room to expound upon it.

        I can see where you might have felt faith was being “sidelined,” but Hazel sidelined it pretty clearly. Purposefully, even. So for Green to force the issue–in my opinion–wouldn’t feel true to the character.

        Reply
        1. cds Post author

          I think you’re right: the religious dimension to the issue was present in the support group. Like I said to Rebecca (below), it’s not that a faith-based approach was not there, but that I felt it was not given a reasonable voice, beyond holding hands to pray and some platitudes that are dismissed as shallow. I accept that Hazel and Gus rejected that faith perspective, and I don’t have a problem with that. The problem I have is that the faith perspective was never presented as credible. Yes, the story is from Hazel’s perspective, and since she dismissed that view, that’s what we would expect to be expressed. But there wasn’t anyone she respected in the book that expressed the faith perspective. And there was no-one in the support group who gave a reasonable response to why they still believed despite their suffering. Again, I wouldn’t demand that Hazel and Gus embraced that view. But this is what I mean when I say I think that perspective was “sidelined.” And in a book dealing with such big issues, IMO, that should have been there.

          Again, this is my take on it, and I respect that others won’t see it the same way. I do appreciate the respectful discussion, especially from those of you who disagree. You guys are great! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. Melanie

    I haven’t read TFiOS yet but I’ve heard its amazing. I actually am trying John Green out right now. I started Will Grayson Will Grayson last month but ended up putting it down after about 3 chapters. It just… wasn’t my thing. Now I’m reading Looking for Alaska. I think he does amazing things with voice and characters but there’s still something that holds me back from his books. I wonder if I’ll feel the same way you do when I read TFiOS. I’m betting on yes.

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      This was my second John Green novel. I’ve read AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES and really enjoyed it. I have LOOKING FOR ALASKA and hope to read it soon. John Green is, for my money, the best YA writer out there (with all due respect to the many amazing YA writers among this audience and whose books I’ve read). Especially for YA Contemporary. There’s a reason why he’s so popular. He excels at what he does. For that reason alone, I think every aspiring author should read his work. That doesn’t mean you’re going to like everything he writes. But I liken my view of John Green to my view of Johnny Depp. I think Johnny Depp is an amazing actor, one of the best in the world. Every character I’ve seen him play, he embraces the role and becomes that character, whether wacky or serious. The guy has serious talent, IMO. Do I love every Johnny Depp movie? No! There are probably movies he has made that I’ll never go and see. But if I was an aspiring actor, I would be studying his films to learn from him.

      My review was an attempt to explain why, as much as I liked TFiOS, I just couldn’t give it the 5-star Book of the Month rating that many might have expected. It has been on the top of so many people’s lists, I anticipated people might wonder why it wasn’t the top of mine. I could have just said “it wasn’t for me,” but I respect my blog readers too much not to be honest about it.

      So, please, read TFiOS. There’s a lot to love and learn from in it. And make your own mind up on it, as I’m sure you will. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  7. Bess Weatherby

    Not having read “The Fault in Our Stars” I can’t comment on it, but your review makes me inclined not to read it. It seems to me that if you are going to tackle such an issue as dying and the human response to it, you would have to include God, whether or not the character ended up rejecting him.

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    1. cds Post author

      If I count up the hours I spent reading TFiOS, it took me less than a day. For that much time commitment, I would say read it. You may end up agreeing with me, or you may find you disagree with me. Either way, while there is an underlying commentary on life, death, and suffering, there is a beautiful story on top that is worth the time and money. Some have called it John Green’s best yet, and I believe it.

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  8. Rebecca B

    I felt very differently about the secular perspective and themes in TFIOS, but it’s great to read your point of view/thoughts. It would have been interesting to have a diverging viewpoint in the book, or to see John Green explore the themes from an organized-religion perspective, but I don’t necessarily think there was a place for that in TFIOS. There are so many perspectives on these big ideas, and they can’t all be represented in one work. Sometimes it’s best, for storytelling or the characters or thematically, to fully explore a single perspective in a work–and that doesn’t have to mean the author intends it to be prescriptive. But this is just my opinion–I don’t think there is a right/wrong perspective to have. I appreciate the honest discussion in your post and these comments!

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      Thanks, Rebecca! I knew this review was coming up, and I struggled all week trying to come up with a way of expressing my problems with the book without undermining the fact that it is an excellent piece of literature. I want to recommend it, but I also want people to understand why I enjoyed it so much yet couldn’t make it my book of the month.

      I’ve already touched on whether John Green was responsible to cover every possible response to cancer in this novel (see my response to Crystal above). I have read novels where I know the lead characters have perspectives that I don’t share, yet I haven’t expected the author to make sure my view got into the story somehow. I think the difference here is that there is an underlying commentary on life, death, and suffering along with this wonderful story. And it’s not as if John Green has totally ignored the religious perspective–that’s not my beef. The support group meetings are held in a church, and if I recall, the “encouragements” and even Gus’s parents from time to time, reflect a faith perspective. It’s the fact that these are dismissed, as if they are just the shallow sentiments of people who don’t get it. I would have loved to have seen one character, perhaps someone in the support group, who embraced this faith perspective and defended it. It could have been one scene, just to acknowledge that such people exist, and their views, while perhaps not shared by the MCs, are still pertinent.

      This is a good discussion, and I’m sure John Green would be pleased that his book helped stimulate it. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  9. Carrie

    Your best book of March sounds like I good read. I also like the way you discovered. It sounds like a great book. I’ll have to add this book to my list of books to read. It sounds really good.

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    1. cds Post author

      It is a great book–totally didn’t expect to like it. I really thought it wasn’t my thing. One of those times when it’s great to be wrong! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  10. Lora

    I still have to read THE FAULT IN OUT STARS! By, the way, I awarded you the Versatile Blogger Award! Details are on my blog.

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      I recommend you do read TFiOS, Lora, my critique aside. It is worth the time. And thanks for the award! I will blog about it in the very near future… ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. cds Post author

      Thanks, Angelica. This was hard because I know a lot of people love this book, but I wanted to be honest with you all about why I really enjoyed it, but couldn’t give it an unqualified thumbs-up. It truly is a masterpiece of literature, though.

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  11. Mrs. S

    That’s a really fascinating angle on TFIOS, and some great discussion in the comments! I’m curious: would you feel differently about the book if a character of faith was represented who was not Christian, but did view his/her situation through the lens of a higher power/religious belief system? I’m trying to get a handle on the nuances of your argument. I think Christianity (like whiteness, maleness, heterosexuality, etc.) often receives the privilege of being invisible until it is absent. Do I think no one should ever write about white Christian men? Of course not; that would be ridiculous. But as categories get more specific (so: “Christian”, as opposed to “person of faith”) , it’s harder to argue that any one book has a moral imperative to specifically include them, and I think members of less-invisible groups are more used to reading fiction that doesn’t include their viewpoint, even when it seems called for. (I do, on the other hand, think there’s a lot of value in identifying which groups aren’t being heard from broadly, and encouraging authors as a group to consider those viewpoints–and I would be really interested, actually, in a survey of current YA lit that indicates percentages of books portraying characters of different faiths and those who are secular humanists/atheists/agnostics, because I haven’t thought much about who might be underrepresented in this area before.)

    I think I’m reading your argument correctly when I say that my guess, to answer my own question, is that you meant “person of faith” more generally. But I’m curious because I know different faiths would surely have different takes on Hazel’s situation, so I guess, where would you draw the line of “Yes, this does the job”? What would you have liked someone to say to Hazel or Gus that wasn’t said?

    Thanks for such a thought-provoking analysis!

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    1. cds Post author

      The people who comment on my blog are absolutely the best! I’m really impressed at the way everyone has conducted this discussion–even those who disagree with me–with courtesy and respect. Look, Washington–it can be done! ๐Ÿ˜€

      To your question, Mrs. S.–and it’s a good question–I think what bothers me is that the presence of a church and the occasional faith-type sentiments expressed introduce religion into the discussion, but not in a way that I thought was very flattering–rather in a way that was dismissive. Because, apart from the fact it’s a church, and the name of the meeting place (“the literal heart of Jesus”), Christianity, or a particular denomination of Christianity, was never at issue. So I think in this case it wasn’t that I felt *my* faith wasn’t being respected, but that any position that looked to a “higher purpose” for pain, suffering, disease, and death, was dismissed without serious consideration.

      Your last question is a dangerous one–asking a theologian what he would have wanted a character to say on the subject of pain, suffering, and death! There is so much I could say, some of which I alluded to in the article. I think I would have given the story an adult figure they respected who could have at least made some thought-provoking comments about the fragility of life as a whole. Perhaps this person could have also commended them on their decision not to be “grenades,” but also pointed out that there is no rational reason within a non-theistic worldview to live that way, since concepts of universal good and bad don’t belong in a non-theistic worldview. Yet, in the faith position, not only is there reason to live well, but also hope in death that transcends the mortal, even when all mortal flesh ceases to exit. Now, I would not expect Gus and Hazel to accept this, but at least including a discussion around those points, and presenting that as a viable worldview would have, I think, elevated the whole theme. Of course, John Green would have written it MUCH better. ๐Ÿ™‚

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      1. Mrs. S

        Aha, thanks for clarifying. I think I’ve identified the point where my thinking really diverges from yours: it feels a little like the “humanism” part of secular humanism is getting short shrift in your argument about why people should live well. Personally, I’ve been all over the place on the faith spectrum, but I’ve always basically understood good and bad in terms of whether my actions are making other people’s lives better or worse. The “grenade” concept is strongly tied into that, I think. Yes, tomorrow we may die, but people we care about will still be around, and the way we make them feel, and the way they remember us, is its own legacy. Essentially, humanity is its own higher power, and so it does feel rational to work in service of humanity. And then you may or may not also believe that there’s a higher-higher power, but the way I understand that higher power, it’s pretty compatible with the idea of serving your fellow persons. (This discussion makes me miss my Milton class in college, taught by a radical lefty prof who cussed up a blue streak and tossed all kinds of crazy theory at us but was absolutely nuts about Milton. I’ve never thought so hard.)

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        1. cds Post author

          I completely understand that viewpoint, Mrs. S., and I think that’s where John Green/Gus/Hazel come down on the subject. However, I think where humanism falters is explaining why it is a good thing to make someone’s life better, or to make others feel good. It seems natural to us to want to live that way, but I have yet to find a humanist that can explain good, bad, reason, altruism, and concepts like that which seem universal, within their own worldview. We make value judgments all the time (good behavior, bad behavior, etc.) as if we all know what “good” and “bad” are. But unless there is some overarching standard of good outside of ourselves, how can we even speak in those terms? Without that standard, we are reduced to subjective norms. As I see it, humanism limits itself to subjective norms, because its worldview cannot allow for universal standards outside of ourselves.

          On the point of our actions leaving a legacy with others, what about in 100 years, or 1,000 years? Few people’s actions are remembered that long. From this perspective, our legacies are extremely short-lived. The human memory is not very long, and unless you do something outstanding, you’d be lucky to survive more than a few generations. I’m not saying that leaving a legacy is not important, but I don’t think it’s a very solid basis upon which to build a moral code.

          And finally, speaking for my own faith, serving one’s fellow person is an end result, not the starting point. In fact, it is my faith that gives meaning and purpose to any humanitarian good I may do. (Indeed, it gives meaning to the word “good”!)

          I hope you take this in the spirit of friendly dialog that has been the hallmark (and the joy) of this discussion today. I’m not trying to change your mind, but I think this helps to see where we do diverge quite radically in our thinking. Thank you so much for your comments and conversation! ๐Ÿ™‚

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          1. Mrs. S

            Thanks for elaborating! You articulate your points very well and you’ve helped me to understand your thinking even where I disagree. I’m tapped out for tonight but you’ve really given me something to think about!

            Reply
  12. Amber

    I’ve really enjoyed John Green’s other books and your write up has gotten me interested in this one. I love his approach to coming of age stories. He doesn’t dumb it down; there’s true depth to his stories.

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      That’s a great reaction to my comments, Amber! The last thing I want to do is to drive people away from this book. John Green is an excellent writer, and I give him massive kudos for taking on a subject many would avoid. The fact that this discussion has made you interested to read TFiOS is really really cool. Whether you end up agreeing with me or not, you’ll enjoy the book. Just have a box of tissues handy. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  13. Bailey Hammond

    Oh boy! Looks like I’m missing out on a lively discussion. I guess this means I’m going to be adding The Fault in Our Stars to my ever-growing TBR pile. ๐Ÿ™‚ Same for your BotM. It reminds me a lot of The Kiterunner from your description.

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      Yes, Bailey, you really should put everything else aside and read both of these books! While they are stylistically (and thematically) very different, they are both very well-written, and absorbing. I highly recommend them both to you. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  14. Tracey Neithercott

    I absolutely loved The Fault in Our Stars. I’m a Christian, too, and I didn’ t much mind the jabs (the literal heart of Jesus). I think I came into it not expecting any faith issues to really be discussed. I do agree that it would have been nice to see some discussion of faith since there’s such great opportunity there, not only because we’re talking about death but because it’s children we’re talking about. You always hear the question, “If there is a God, why is there pain and suffering? Why do innocent children get cancer?” It would have been great for one of the characters to struggle a bit with this, even if at the end he/she decided not to believe.

    Great points.

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      Thanks, Tracey. You’re right, the question of suffering is one that comes up a lot both inside and outside the church. It would have been nice to see this brought up and discussed–even by someone in the support group, not necessarily one of the MCs. Good thought. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply
  15. Sara Biren

    This is a really thoughtful response to the book. Thank you. I have not read it yet and I think it may be a long time before I am able to — hits a little too close to home these days. I’m so intrigued by all I’ve read about it, however. Thanks for sharing your take.

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      Thank you, Sara! As I’ve said above, I don’t want anyone to not read this book because of the issues I had. It’s such a good book, that it deserves to be read. However, I know for some the subject matter is a little close to home, and it may be difficult to read right now. You’re not the first to express that view, and I respect that. John Green was very brave to even tackle the subject, and few could have done it as well as he did (my critique notwithstanding). When you feel able to, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and many others have.

      Reply
  16. Daisy Carter

    I’m late to the party! What an excellent review of both books, Collin, an what an amazing (and thoughtful and articulate and respectful) slew of comments you have in response!
    I read TFiOS when it first came out because, like you said above, every YA writer should study his work *I also study Johnny Depp, for different, superficial reasons ;)*
    And while I loved the book, like you, I wished for some faith-based subplot or mentioning. I think you have your answer in one of your earliest responses to a comment: maybe John Green didn’t feel it necessary to include any faith-based questions/commentary/outlook because kids today don’t really buy into a faith-based message. As a Christian, I too would find this sad if it were true. I fear it is.
    Can’t remember which, but a magazine cover not long ago boasted we as a people have grown past needing a deity or religion of any kind. Oprah and others have led the way in teaching that god is in us, not outside of us. Which might be why humanists and Christians (or Muslims or Jews…) can’t understand each other’s POV of “WHY” we should be good. Some people don’t look outside themselves for an over-arcing reason. For a humanist, everything is found within (not that I’m learned in humanism. Just my take). A person of faith looks to their god for a reason.

    I meant to only speak of how intrigued I was by BEM and leave the other discussion to those more well versed than I. But we writers can’t help but give our two cents, am I right? Anyway, B,E,M sounds like a excellent book, and I am adding it to my list. Thanks for the recommendation!

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      Thank you for your comments, Daisy. I must say I have been really impressed by how thoughtful the comments have been today. This area was the only area I felt TFiOS failed–at least for me–and I really thought I owed it to my blog readers to say so. However, I know there are a wide variety of views represented out there, so I hoped people would at least be kind and humor me. Everyone’s been wonderful. I love it when we can broach thorny issues, hold our disagreements, but be respectful and kind to one another.

      Unfortunately, I think this discussion has kind of taken the limelight away from the book that actually WAS my book of the month, so I’m glad you noticed it! ๐Ÿ™‚ To be fair, I reviewed it last Monday, so it has had its moment of fame on the blog. Still, it is a great book, and worthy of your attention.

      Reply
  17. Julie Dao

    Wow, that first book sounds very intense and thought-provoking. I can usually only read a few of those a year. I don’t like heavy material very much! “Breath, Eyes, Memory” sounds like a beautiful story and is near to my heart because two of my very best friends are Haitian. Thanks for the recommendations!

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      You’re welcome, Julie. TFiOS deals with a deep subject, but it is done in a very accessible way. It’s first person, so everything is from the POV of a teenage girl. It really is a lovely story, and so well-written, I really recommend it. Yes, it will make you think (see above discussion!), but I’m sure you’ll agree, that’s not a bad thing.

      As for BREATH, EYES, MEMORY, definitely put that one on your TBR list. Especially since you have a personal connection to Haiti. I think you’ll like it a lot.

      Reply
  18. Kate Traylor

    Iโ€™m not critiquing the book for not being Christianโ€“there are plenty of books I enjoy (and have made โ€œbook of the monthโ€) that are not from a Christian worldview. Rather, itโ€™s the fact that the book attempted to tackle important issues, and yet overlooked, or at least failed to deal satisfactorily with, important alternative perspectives.

    I don’t really think a person writing from a secular humanist perspective has any obligation to explore religious worldviews. I wouldn’t criticize a Christian author for writing a book about death that didn’t explore the atheist/humanist viewpoint. (I’ve never read TFIOS, so can’t comment on it specifically.)

    Breath, Eyes, Memory sounds interesting. Might have to pick it up.

    Reply
    1. cds Post author

      Hello, Kate! Thanks for your comment. I think I mentioned in some of the responses to other comments that John Green introduced a religious element to the story by the setting of the support group (a church), and some of the comments of some of the characters. My problem is that this view was, I felt, sidelined and not really dealt with respectfully. See the discussion above for a more on this. But I would agree that secular books on death don’t have to deal with every other possible perspective. My problem is that John Green introduced a religious perspective, but ended up presenting a caricature of religious views that was then summarily dismissed. As the author, it’s his story, and he has every right to do that. But I found it grating, and detracted from what was an otherwise excellent book.

      BREATH, EYES, MEMORY is indeed worth your time. I hope you enjoy it. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Reply

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