The Happy Sad Syndrome
Is there anything called Happy Sad? You know when you are filled with joy of knowing someone and yet there is sadness of parting? I am truly blessed not to have parted with someone like that in real life – I mean I do have close friends and family who have moved away and I do miss them terribly! But there is always the hope of meeting again and starting off from where we left. Therefore, all my Happy Sad relations are limited, (sigh and thank heavens!) with books.There are those books that make you laugh through the whole bloody tale, only to make you cry (because otherwise the lump in your throat would choke you) in the end and yet when you close the book, you are smiling, cause you have just formed a Happy Sad relationship!
I know I am being maudlin, but bear with me! I just underwent such a cathartic Happy Sad moment! I just finished reading John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. This was my first book by John Green and I had no idea it was a young adult book and even if I did, frankly my dear, I don’t give a damm!
The story sounds very mushy and sentimental – Hazel Lancaster is a terminally ill girl who is forced to go to a Cancer Support Group meeting by her mother so that she can deal with her illness. At such a meeting, she meets Augustus Walters, a Cancer survivor and they start seeing each other. As their relationship develops, so does their obsession with author Peter Van Houten who had written a book called An Imperial Affliction, which does not really have an ending. In order to find an appropriate end to the story, Augustus uses his Wish from The Genie Foundation, to sponsor a trip to Amsterdam to meet the reclusive author and get a closure on the book they both love.
But there is so much more to this book than teenage mush and of course the whole tragedy of young people dying of cancer. This book is filled with sparkling wit and wonderful humor and some absolutely marvelous prose and some heartbreaking moments. Let me elaborate –
When Hazel is worried that she would break his heart by dying of her illness, Augustus says ““Oh, I wouldn’t mind, Hazel Grace. It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you.”
The humor crackles through the book; here a sample when Augustus’s sister try to cochie coo him, making him uncomfortable –
“It’s just that most really good-looking people are stupid, so I exceed expectations.’
‘Right, it’s primarily his hotness,’ I said.
‘It can be sort of blinding,’ he said.
‘It actually did blind our friend Isaac,’ I said.
‘Terrible tragedy, that. But can I help my own deadly beauty?’
‘It is my burden, this beautiful face.’
‘Not to mention your body.’
‘Seriously, don’t even get me started on my hot bod. You don’t want to see me naked, Dave. Seeing me naked actually took Hazel Grace’s breath away,’ he said, nodding toward the oxygen tank.”
And the heartbreaking moments like when Hazel worries what will happen to her parents after she dies and she makes them promise to be together and continue leading a good fulfilling life.
The sensitivity with which a very difficult subject has been handled, without sentimentality and loads of fun (in fact the book is replete with mockery of all those books with cancer patients who do such courageous things, when in reality there is nothing poetic about dying a slow and painful death). There is a lot of good sense and practicality and an unearthly sense of reality. There is THIS whole piece of talking over the phone just before you drop off to sleep which is even better than being with the person, because it is togetherness beyond the obvious. I know exactly what that Hazel is talking about. While I am not 16 and I am not sick, I do talk to Mr. Soulmate every day just before I drop off to sleep and it’s one of the most wonderful experiences, where it seems like I am with him no matter what the time and space and there is something intransient about us!
That’s another thing about John Green’s book – he is a man; but the story is written from a girl’s point of view and boy! Does this man know the soul of woman or what? It’s like he is sitting in living room of a girl’s heart and writing from there.
Like I said, I could go on and on about the book, but it’s just something you need to read and savor on your own, like Hazel says –
“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”