‘The Fault In Our Stars’ Can Teach These 7 Real Life Lessons, So Don’t Ban It
Even though we're smack in the middle of Banned Books Week, a California middle school district has banned John Green's beloved The Fault in Our Stars following complaints from parents about inappropriate sexual content. I know what you're thinking: There are still middle schoolers (nevermind parents) in this world who haven't yet read The Fault in Our Stars? Isn't this two years and a movie too late?
Apparently not. For those of you hiding your head in the sand this year, Green's YA novel centers on two teenagers who meet in a cancer support group and fall in love. And as the Riverside schools parents' have now spoiled for you, they have sex. It's important to note that this sexual content takes up approximately 1.5 pages of the 318 pages, and the word "sex" is not even in the book. And if we're being nitpicky, the book doesn't so much have teens "having sex," as one mother says, but teens right before and after having sex.
Frankly, parent, you are blocking the freedom to read by removing it from libraries rather than just from your child. Again, we should all be tired of making the statement that by writing this book off as being about "teens dying of cancer who use crude language and have sex," but apparently we need to keep saying it. By dismissing a book that has a lot to say to middle school and high schoolers as being just about this, you are robbing children of the chance to experience so much more that the book can teach us.
1. Everyone you meet is fighting their own battles
At even its simplest, The Fault In Our Stars can be a wake-up call to some preteens — and, of course, adults as well — that you never quite know the struggles the people around you are going through. Don't be cruel. Maybe seeing a girl your age with a nasal cannula, a boy with a prosthetic leg, or a blind boy behind sunglasses after this book will cause people to look at them with empathy, instead of as "other." Maybe they'll choose to be kind, to befriend, rather than to push aside or worse, bully.
2. It's OK to feel your feelings
Hazel spends so much of her live in a self-imposed bubble, pretending everything is fine to protect those around her. But this is the wrong idea, and she learns it. Your friends and family are put here to help you, so engage with them. Speak your fears, as Augustus does, and cry it out, egg cars, and break things, as Isaac does. You don't always have to put up a facade; let others in to help when you're going through something.
3. You are not defined by your illness
Words can't explain how much I wish I had this book when I was a preteen, coping with my own illness. For others who are struggling with the same diagnosis or congenital disease, it can truly teach us all to remember that, while an illness becomes a piece of who you are, it does not define you. And you know what? You can do this.
And for those who are lucky enough to have a healthy childhood, the novel can teach you to remember to never pigeonhole people, to allow them to open up and show you their whole person, behind the disease.
4. You can't always get what you want
How many times have you heard, "but it's not fair!" from someone in your life? The Fault in our Stars doesn't put it gently: Guess what, the world isn't fair. If you're playing along thinking it'll be fair, you have the wrong scorecard. But there's still hope — and that's a crucial message, one that isn't all positive or all negative, of the story that really, we shouldn't let our middle schoolers miss. And if you think some of them aren't already learning this in the course of their own lives and you're helping them by shutting out the negativity, you're so, so wrong.
5. Things will never work out how you imagine, and that's OK
Every step of the way, Augustus and Hazel's plans were foiled. Their trip to Amsterdam to meet their favorite author; the rollercoasters of their illnesses; and even Isaac dealt with it with his breakup. But ultimately, this isn't always a bad thing, and it's a tough lesson to learn for everyone. No matter how much you plan ahead, the universe doesn't have a copy of your calendar.
6. You matter
(Excuse me while I grab my tissues.)
What could be a better lesson than reminding the middle schoolers that their actions and words impact people's lives, for better or for worse. It's a not-so-gentle nudge to remind people to look outside themselves, to be kind to friends, to treat others as they'd want to be treated. As Hazel said, and as Gus learned, you don't have to be world famous, the best kind of love is to be a good person and a good friend. And in the end, that's what will make the difference.
7. Experience Life
The Fault in our Stars is a huge reminder that, even when you're a teenager, you are not immortal. With that in mind, get out there in the world and experience it. Travel, feel, love. Appreciate the small moments. Don't get bogged down in the minutia, because it won't matter next year, or even tomorrow. Don't be afraid of heartbreak or struggle, because look, that's inevitable and a part of life. You never know what the world has coming for you, so go out and make things happen.