I’m very excited to bring you another installment of our monthly(ish) book reviews from guest contributor Devon Barta! As usual Devon does a wonderful job drawing comparisons between literature and how it relates to her life as a mother. I hope you’ll read her essay on what this book taught her about mothering and fear.
One of the beautiful things about motherhood is that even though it comes with a new set of skills to learn and a new life to build, it also comes with heightened emotions, almost like a package deal. The emotions are there to guide us, filling us with the passion required for the task of raising children. And most are actually helpful.
Some, however, are duplicitous – like fear.
In many cases it can be an ally, like when I feel it rising in my belly while watching my children climb the monkey bars and can sense one slipping even before he knows he’s about to. Fear helps me jump to my feet and reach him before he hits the ground, calling on athletic abilities I haven’t used in decades.
Other times, though, fear works in the opposite way, paralyzing me into submission with obsessive thoughts about things that may or may not occur, as I hear tragic news about sick children, dying children, families torn apart by illness and disease.
I suppose it’s a part of what happens when our mom switch gets flipped on, which we all know is engaged the second we start our happy dance in the bathroom, twirling around with our pregnancy test in a raised hand. It’s instinctual, a protective barrier we surround our family with. And it’s relentless.
And like all things, it comes with options: We can choose to harness the power that fear provides, allowing us to tap into our instincts, or we can let it paralyze us into suffocating our children – and ultimately ourselves.
Oddly enough, it took me nearly five years, three children and a work of fiction to realize this.
My boys turned four last fall and my daughter just turned two, but it wasn’t until I finished The Fault in our Stars by John Green that I finally understood that yes, bad things happen – every day they happen – to good people too. And it’s possible something bad might happen to me, but ultimately there’s nothing I can do about it but to live.
It’s really that simple.
Green is an award-winning, young-adult fiction author whose latest book is being heralded as the newest young-adult-to-adult-fiction crossover. I know, I know. I kind of groaned too, but this is one case where the young adult classification, unfortunately, pigeonholes an otherwise really good book. One that actually deserves the attention it’s getting.
Fault comes equipped with an extremely grown-up theme – even a few plot-twists – and fleshed-out and engaging characters. And best of all, it has more artistic value and intellectual merit than most of the YA titles flooding the market. In addition, there is enough witty dialogue and well-rounded prose to hold an older reader’s attention. (Ahem, that’s us, by the way).
When Hazel Lancaster is diagnosed with cancer, she knows she is probably going to die young. And even though the diagnosis changes her, she doesn’t allow it to define her. Instead, the disease that is ultimately going to kill her allows her to live more completely.
At first Hazel resists the limitations the disease forces upon her; even opposing support group meetings. That is until she meets Augustus Waters. Like Hazel, Augustus has cancer, and like Hazel Augustus is wary of support group. The two form a fast friendship that blossoms into an even faster romance, one that is bound by their quick wit and a shared quirkiness that endears both characters to the reader and eventually leads them on a once-in-a-lifetime journey to Amsterdam to meet Hazel’s favorite author. The trip will forever change them both, challenging their spirits even more than a cancer diagnosis ever could.
As Green’s characters so beautifully – and tragically – remind us, the length of someone’s life doesn’t necessarily dictate the quality, It’s about what we do in-between the unavoidable bookends. However closely they are positioned to one another is not for us to say.
The Fault in Our Stars helped me to realize that life is more than a timeline prettily marked by milestones, it’s about what we choose fill the quiet moments with. So instead of wringing my hands over the inevitable, I plan to watch more intently, laugh more loudly and participate more often.
And each time I do become fearful, I’ll do my best to sort it out and perhaps even be reminded of Green’s characters, allowing Hazel and August to show me what fear can do, what it should do: highlight the moments we should be savoring.
From contributor Devon Barta:
Reading is what I do, and it’s what my family has done for the past 30 years.
My husband, Alex, and I are third-generation owners of The Paperhouse in St. Maries, Idaho. Our store carries a wide variety of books as well as office supplies, art and scrapbooking materials, and we are the largest Melissa & Doug toy dealer in North Idaho.
Whenever I finish a book, I talk to myself. Out loud. Sometimes even in public. I’m having a conversation with no one, really, but I’m analyzing the book, dissecting its dialogue, processing its prose.
In an order to appear sane, I finally started writing my thoughts down, and you can now find them and follow our family’s journey at The Paperhouse.