February 16, 2017

You’re sixteen, you’re dying, you have friends who are dying: Okay, this is a thing that happens, so let’s deal with it. Let’s deal with it with anger and sadness and intelligence and humor and an open heart and an open mind like we try to deal with everything else.

That’s the approach John Green takes in The Fault in Our Stars. Good books, like good people, are honest. They move along being the things they are, not trying to be all the things they aren’t. I think this is why, in this time of incredible artificiality and deception, I’m reading so much. I’m yearning for true things.

For some reason (maybe because of the heart-strings-pulling previews for the Hollywoodized version), I avoided this book for a long time. Then the other day I realized that the author is the same John Green who makes the brilliant Crash Course videos for teachers and students. I use the History videos with my students all the time because they are astute, entertaining, not at all condescending, and always framed by a compassionate attitude toward the people he describes. I hoped Mr. Green would bring the same approach to his fiction, and I was not disappointed.

I won’t describe any further details of this book because you either know the basic storyline already or you don’t want to know it. Suffice it to say that it will indeed pull your heart-strings, but not in a manipulative way. There are surprises. There’s delicious sarcasm. And a good and important book plays a key role in the lives of the characters in this good and important story.

I have to say that I’ve developed a bit of a professional crush on Mr. Green. He’s a great teacher and a great writer, he’s illuminating the world for millions of people through his books and his online activities, and he does it all while being himself. These are all the things I try to be and want to do in my career.

But it’s not just my professional envy that says, You should read this book. It’s a quick read, partly because it’s well-written, and partly because it is filled with dialogue. That dialogue is authentic, the characters are memorable, and the way events unfold is entirely satisfying—in a literary sense. This book will make you want to be more yourself—with yourself and with everyone around you. That’s the most important reason to read it, and to read in general: Books that bring truth to the world, either in what they say or in how they inspire us to act, are precious.

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