Friday, February 14, 2014

FEBRUARY 2014 BOOKERS MINUTES & MUSINGS, The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
                                  William Shakespeare

17 Bookers braved East Texas’ version of Siberia to the home of Patty Evans, our one-woman show as she recommended the book, hosted the meeting, and reviewed the selection. Thanks for being “all-inclusive” and walking us through the tears with doses of humor and quotes from the characters and author. We welcomed back Marsha Smith and Sandy Molander and hope they will become regulars again. And, we’re very happy to report that Lois is feeling a little better each week and in her words, “At first I was afraid to hope, but now I believe my kidney has rallied a bit and I’m convinced the crisis is over.” She also credits the improvement to the love, prayers, and support from dear friends…and all the sweetness under her angel umbrella. She has rejoined the bridge group and maybe she will feel strong enough to put Bookers back on her schedule. Great news!!

As a warm-up we gave the group the first half of a well-known proverb and asked they use their imaginations to add the remainder of the quote. We then compared their answers to those of a group of six-year olds to see how we stacked up. Some of us were as creative as the children…Better late than – pregnant. A bird in the hand…is going to poop on you.

On the surface, John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars is a familiar story. Two teenagers meet; discover raging hormones, and the magic of first love. She’s smart and shy, certainly not “the hand raising type,” who views herself as “a normally proportioned person with a balloon for a head.” He’s “long and leanly muscular”...with straight short Mahogany hair and eyes so blue you could see through them…not to mention being “hot.” But, sixteen-year old girl Hazel Grace Lancaster and seventeen-year old Augustus Waters are living with cancer…each no more than a breath or heartbeat away from death. We rated this selection RED as it is a tough read on an emotional level although written for young adults.

The author wrote in the first person age-appropriate voice of Hazel skillfully examining the “largest possible considerations – life, love, and death – with sensitivity, intelligence, honesty, and integrity.” His inspiration came from a chance meeting at a Harry Potter convention where thirty-one year old John Green developed a friendship with Esther Grace Earl, a child living with cancer whose dream it was to be a writer, but of course, cancer’s specialty was “murdering dreams.” Hem was consumed by the need to give a voice to the small victims of life-threatening diseases, their parents, and caregivers, and by writing The Fault In Our Stars, he honored the life of his friend, Esther, by dedicating the book to her memory. Her parents, Lori and Wayne Earl gathered their daughter’s journals and photos and compiled them in a book titled, This Star Won’t Go Out. John Green wrote the forward. The Earls also founded a nonprofit organization under the same name ( providing financial assistance for families struggling through the journey of a child living with cancer. So far, they have given away more than $130,000 to families in need.

Hazel Grace is a three-year survivor of Stage IV thyroid cancer who hasn’t attended regular school during this remission. She looks at herself as the “alpha and omega” of her parent’s suffering, but also describes them as two of her best friends. She’s obsessed with her “third” bestie, Peter Van Houten the reclusive author of An Imperial Affliction. The book is the closest thing she had to a Bible because he seemed to “understand dying without having died.” Anna, the narrator, suffers from a rare blood cancer, but the book abruptly ends in mid-sentence, leaving Hazel in a neurotic limbo as to what happened to the characters. She, according to her doctor, is clinically depressed, which he says is a side effect of cancer, and recommends she attend a weekly support group. Hazel says, “Depression is a side effect of dying,” but in order to keep peace in her family, she reluctantly agrees to give it a try. This simple act launches her into an uncontrolled world laced with possibilities, where she finds Augustus, who suffered a “touch of osteosarcoma” which cost him his right leg. Their relationship began and ended in the basement of the Episcopal Church – a fragile rare thing which gave each a “forever within  the numbered days.” Their lives together were side effects of the other. Hazel Grace “walked lightly upon the earth” and Augustus walked beside her in infinity… an infinity bigger than some.

No stone was left unturned when it came to symbolism, metaphors, and foreshadowing abundant throughout the novel. The swing set in Hazel’s backyard reminded her of childhood and represented the ups-and-downs of human life, as “no matter how hard you kick, no matter how high you get, you can’t go all the way around.” Augustus Waters’ unlit cigarette and Holden Caulfield’s red hat in Catcher In The Rye both signified a fly-in-the-face to the adult world. Augustus was the first emperor of the Roman Empire, a name associated with confidence and bravado. His nickname, Gus, might appears in children’s picture books as an endangered little boy rather than a strong Augustus. And, then there’s WATER. Not only Augustus’ last name, but for Hazel it meant both a creator and destroyer of life. Water makes her life possible but the fluid in her lungs is killing her. Amsterdam would not be a great City if not surrounded by water, but is also drowning and at a constant risk of disaster from flooding. Perhaps the most poignant was ending Van Houton’s novel in mid-sentence…you might die in the middle of life, in the middle of a sentence.

Green achieved his goal to write a novel about “the things that make life possible and valuable and how many of those things are also what makes life painful and temporary.” His message is clear though, it’s still attainable “to live and make decisions despite the fault in our stars.” The movie version is set to release June 6th.

The majority of our group who read this book favored the selection. We are glad so many of you were able to digest this difficult read, empathize with the characters and their story, and recognize the importance of Mr. Green’s message to his target audience. Once again, many of us had personal stories to share offering some insight into real-life tragedies and the inspiration of others in dealing with the painful side effects of loss. Cherry’s seventeen-year old granddaughter, Katherine, recommended the book to her (before we picked it.) She’s waiting “until she has time to cry” before reading it. The resiliency of youth.

                            On the business side
We have twelve Bookers attending Books n’ Bloom at the Cain Center on April 4th. Thanks to everyone for supporting this fundraiser for the Henderson County Public Library.
As a recap, the following is the rating system MN and I have assigned to OUR opinions of books we’ve read. Again, this is meant to be a guideline only.
5 Stars:                  Order Now. Expedited shipping worthy. Include in your will
4 Stars:                  Borders on Little Bee
3 Stars:                  Beach Read
2 Stars:                  Borrow don’t buy
1 Star:                   Put your money back in the piggy bank

We’ve both read The Rosie Project, a debut novel by Graeme Simsion, currently on the NY Times bestseller list. MN rates it a (3). I give it a (3+). It’s quirky and entertaining about Professor Don Tillman, a socially inept scientist with Asperger’s (although he doesn’t know it) who is tone deaf to irony. Rosie is an edgy young woman whose fallback mode is sarcasm. Put them together and you have a comedy about a brilliant, emotionally challenged geneticist who’s determined to find a suitable wife with the help of a carefully designed questionnaire, and a patently unsuitable woman who keeps distracting him from his search.

Emma Donoghue, author of ROOM, will release her first literary crime novel, Frog Music on April 1st. It’s about an unsolved murder set in San Francisco in 1876. Keep your fingers crossed for another 5 star book!

Apologies to Daryl as she brought a copy of the children’s book, The Snow Child, which she knew she had seen in her “children’s literary” stash and we forgot to give her the floor.

                         COLOR CODING SYSTEM
                         WHITE:         LIGHT READ
                          PINK:             MODERATELY CHALLENGING
                          RED:              CHALLENGING

March 11th:                  The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
                                    Home of Marlene Ungarean
                                    Reviewer: Jean McSpadden
April 8th:                      Don’t Let Me Go by Katherine Ryan Hyde
                                    Home of Sandy Molander
                                    Reviewers: MN Stanky & JoDee Neathery
May 13th:                     Wonder by R.J. Palacio regular meeting 10:00 AM
                                    Home of Bonnie Magee
                                    Reviewer: Jean Alexander

Children always seem to be running toward life instead of away from it….especially true of those with cancer. They seem to have an inner strength to be able to replace fear with courage creating an aura of inspiration for those around them.


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