Well, it’s finally here. Yay I guess.
Guys, I know I keep saying this, but this was the worst chapter yet. You don’t even have any idea.
Let’s finally get this the fuck over with.
Hazel wakes up from a nap as the plane is landing.
My mouth tasted horrible, and I tried to keep it shut for fear of poisoning the airplane.
I don’t know what this means. I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean. I don’t care. And you can’t make me.
They hail a taxi driven by this doughy bald guy who spoke… better English than I do. Because remember kids: your appearance is all that counts, and foreigners are dumb apes.
Apparently they’re staying at the Hotel Filosoof. One guess at what that means. Just one.
HOT GREEN ON GREEN ACTION: 26
“Indiana,” he said. “They steal the land from the Indians and leave the name, yes?”
THIS IS AN INCREDIBLY ORIGINAL THOUGHT NO ONE HAS EVER HAD BEFORE. JOHN GREEN, YOU ARE BLOWING MY MIND.
HOT GREEN ON GREEN ACTION: 27
That was mostly spite.
They get into the city proper, and Hazel is stunned by the architecture and how old everything must be.
I thought about how wonderfully strange it would be to live in a place where almost everything had been built by the dead.
As we know, the United States was founded in 1995 and all buildings have been constructed since then.
“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.”
WHAT DOES THAT EVEN FUCKING MEAN. IT IS FUCKING NONSENSE. UGH.
All the rooms in the Hotel Filosoof were named after filosoofers: Mom and I were staying on the ground floor in the Kierkegaard; Augustus was on the floor above us, in the Heidegger.
HOT GREEN ON GREEN ACTION: 28
Because this book is SMART, and Green is SMART, and this is PHILOSOPHY and Green is a PHILOSOPHER. Just spelling it out for you. It’s really subtle, I was worried you’d miss it.
Hazel takes a nap. She wakes up in the late afternoon, and her mom tells her that McDutch’s assistant is treating her and Gus to dinner at a restaurant called Oranjee.
Sorry to keep quoting and not saying much, but literally nothing is happening in this fucking book. They’re get to a location, then nothing will happen, then there will be a line I want to show you, then nothing will happen, then line, then nothing, then new location, then line… it’s not fun for either of us.
One might marvel at the insanity of the situation: A mother sends her sixteen-year-old daughter alone with a seventeen-year-old boy out into a foreign city famous for its permissiveness. But this, too, was a side effect of dying: I could not run or dance or eat foods rich in nitrogen, but in the city of freedom, I was among the most liberated of its residents.
I mean, what does this bullshit even mean? This is just nonsense. It’s word vomit. This city is free, and I’m allowed into it alone because I’m not free. But I’m free, because I’m in the city, where I’m not as free as everyone else, but I’m the most free.
The chapter then gets very… weird. From here on out, this turns into a particularly saccharine wish-fulfillment fantasy. It’s almost creepy. I don’t really get why an adult man is living out his fantasy life via a 16-year-old girl and her not-boyfriend, but it’s happening and by God is it awful. There will be no stopping Hazel telling us how ~perfect~ everything is. Because this is a book about what it’s like to battle cancer, and as we know, all of those involve being waited on hand and foot by foreigners at no expense to yourself.
We even get a detailed description of her hair and clothes, complete with label name-dropping. I have a few theories about this. One is that John Green honestly envies the dating lives and totes adorable clothing of teenage girls and if he could do it all again, he’d be one of them. The other is that he figured the only way to get teenage girls emotionally invested in a book was this kind of shallow crap, because That’s What Girls Do, and didn’t care that it had no place in a book about kids dying. Another is that someone somewhere along in the editing process said MOAR STEREOTYPICAL YA CRAP and so he wrote it in.
Whatever it is, it’s someone’s sue fantasy, and I sure as fucking fuck don’t care, so I figure it must be Green’s, at least on some level.
Anyway, Gus knocks on the door. We learn that Hotel de Pretencion has no peepholes, because this is a vital detail that will have a large effect on the story and my life at large.
Because this is YA, we then have to be assured that Hazel is not a filthy whore:
The sundress offered the most in the way of my rib cage and collarbone that Augustus had seen. It wasn’t obscene or anything, but it was as close as I ever got to showing some skin.
(My mother had a motto on this front that I agreed with: “Lancasters don’t bare midriffs.”)
a) I can’t read that as anything but “Lannisters don’t bare midriffs” and it cracks me up every time.
b) If nothing else, the slut-shaming is just so done. It honestly offends me the most in that way. Every fucking YA protag is Mary freaking Mother of Christ herself and it’s boring. Do something different already!
Gus is apparently wearing a suit, and he’s all, oh, this? I found it in the dumpster last night, plebes, because he’s a pretentious wad.
They take public transportation to the restaurant, and it’s apparently just divine. There’s these flower petals or seeds or something in the air everywhere and it’s pretty.
They get to the restaurant and the hostess immediately knows who they are as they’re walking up and they’re shown to their table without having to say a thing, because sue fantasy. They also get complementary champagne, because sue fantasy.
Here’s a sampling of the kind of prose we’re getting, by the by:
The slight chill in the air was balanced magnificently by the sunshine
The tiny bubbles melted in my mouth and journeyed northward into my brain. Sweet. Crisp. Delicious.
“Do you know,” [the waiter] asked in a delicious accent
The prose is so bad, guys. It’s so bad. And it’s so sparklypoo sue. It feels like bad fanfic. “Sparklebottom McMuffinpants is the most beautiful girl in the world and she has the perfect boyfriend and they get to eat delicious food for free because everyone loves them!”
I looked at Augustus and he at me. “The chef’s choice sounds lovely, but Hazel is a vegetarian.” I’d mentioned this to Augustus precisely once, on the first day we met.
It’s hard to be impressed when that was like a week ago, Hazel.
The waiter remarks that all the flower petals or whatever are annoying and apologizes.
“People always get used to beauty, though.”
Or it’s only beautiful to you because you’ve never seen it before.
“I haven’t gotten used to you just yet,” he answered, smiling. I felt myself blushing.
Because we’re now in a sue fantasy, I’m going to start nailing these with Green-on-Green points. Every time someone talks about how perfect and wonderful Hazel the Self-Insert is, it gets one.
HOT GREEN ON GREEN ACTION: 29
“Thank you for wearing that dress which is like whoa,” he said.
HOT GREEN ON GREEN ACTION: 30
This chapter is so bad, guys.
For some reason Gus makes Hazel recite the ending of the poem she told him on the plane. No idea why. It’s not brought up again.
Now it’s time for good ol’ food porn! Except this isn’t the random, whatevs kind from FSN, it’s the holier-than-thou wish-fulfillment kind that makes me want to punch this book in the face.
And now, I mean, you have to see this to believe it. A 15-year-old couldn’t have written something this perfectly fanfic. There’s no way to describe it.
Some people in a lacquered wooden boat approached us on the canal below. One of them, a woman with curly blond hair, maybe thirty, drank from a beer then raised her glass toward us and shouted something.
“We don’t speak Dutch,” Gus shouted back.
One of the others shouted a translation: “The beautiful couple is beauitful.”
HOT GREEN ON GREEN ACTION: 31
favorite part about that last line is that somehow, despite being on the internet, I guess Green doesn’t realize it’s a meme that carries connotations of sarcasm. My headcanon here is that the local saw how ridiculously pretentious the American tourists were being and shouted that at them, and started laughing hysterically when they took it literally.
More food porn, and then:
Champagne was no exception to my high tolerance for depressants and pain relievers; I felt warm but not intoxicated.
Guys, this is the weirdest super-special-sue-trait I have ever seen.
I kind of wonder if it was supposed to be a medical-related thing but Green forgot to add in the bridging details. Like, I could see if Hazel had been on a lot of painkillers and barbituates because of the cancer and it became a problem when she needed them for normal stuff, but there’s nowhere in the book that actually says this. Hazel never says, “Cancer treatment left me immune,” she just says, “Tee-hee, I’m so different!” and leaves it at that.
“Mmmm,” I said after the waiter left, and Augustus smiled crookedly as he stared down the canal while I stared up it.
CROOKED SMILE OF DOOM (TM): 4
Suddenly, Gus decides this is the perfect time to tell Hazel the suit he’s wearing is the one he bought in case he died. Because that’s great conversation for a date.
It was so abrupt and such a ridiculously jarring shift in tone, that it literally reads like Green was jacking his way through the chapter and then remembered, “Oh yeah, they should have cancer,” and just had Gus say this out of the blue with no provocation to get back on that track.
Hazel at least on some level seems to get that this is weird, because she’s like, well, I have a death outfit and all, but I don’t really wear it on dates and then talk about it to people. All Gus hears is DATE, and it’s back to food porn.
Out of nowhere, Augustus asked, “Do you believe in an afterlife?”
When even your narrator it pointing out your shitty transitions, you know it’s bad.
Hazel’s all, eh, not really, Gus Crooked Smiles, and he says he thinks there is one.
CROOKED SMILE OF DOOM (TM): 5
“Really?” I asked. I was surprised. I’d always associated belief in heaven with, frankly, a kind of intellectual disengagement.
This has always struck me as an analogous statement to “Atheists are immoral” in that it’s something very unintelligent, very insecure people say as a way to feel better about themselves via putting others down. And that’s all I have to say.
Incidentally, I’ve been told by the person doing this book on Das that the fans were pissed about that line. Which just makes me think… how can you call yourself a “fan” of something that actively insults you and makes you angry? Isn’t
that, in the most literal sense, the point at which you’ve become a “hater”?
“Yeah,” he said quietly. “I believe in that line from An Imperial Affliction. ‘The risen sun too bright in her losing eyes.’ That’s God, I think, the rising sun
HOT GREEN ON GREEN ACTION: 32
Guys, I don’t think you understand just how amazing these quotes by John Green are, so John Green is going to keep reminding you. John Green.
I have a sneaking suspicion that this whole topic was brought up because Green thought up that quote and then thought up the brilliant meaning of it and then had to plop it in somewhere because it was so amazingly awesome and he figured here was as good as anywhere. They just suddenly start talking about the book and the religion issue is never brought up again.
Gus says he’s afraid of his life not mattering, and having died made no difference in the world. This is the first honest thing he’s ever said, to me.
For some reason this pisses Hazel off:
“It’s really mean of you to say that the only lives that matter are the ones that are lived for something or die for something. That’s a really mean thing to say to me.”
Hazel. Honey. Dipshit
No one is stopping you from doing good with your life.
No one is holding a gun to your head saying, “God dammit, if you help even one person in need, you’re gone!”
No one is stopping you from having principles and beliefs and things you would fight for, and that you don’t is pretty disturbing.
Meaning doesn’t fall into your lap. You are not special in this way. That your life is hard does not make you special. That you haven’t woken up one morning suddenly having all the answers does not make you special. That’s you’ve sat around moping and somehow managed to accomplish nothing by this does not make you special.
People who have “lived or died for something?” They worked their fucking asses off for it.
What have you done Hazel? You’ve whined. You’ve put down a lot of people for things they do that you declare Uncool (like not being attractive enough for you, or not talking the right way), you’ve argued with your parents when they’ve encouraged you to leave the house. You’re misanthropic, mopey, spiteful, petty, lazy, and have an incredible false sense of superiority toward those around you.
None of that has anything to do with the cancer. And by your own insistence and authorial fiat, you are not depressed.
Volunteer somewhere. Maybe with those other dying kids you like to bash at your support group. Maybe the dumb neolithic plebeians at your local church run a soup kitchen or a food drive. You’re well enough to fly halfway
around the world; I’m sure you can maneuver yourself around the block to feed some homeless people.
But not leaving the house isn’t an excuse. Not leaving BED isn’t an excuse. Go online. Get involved with the social justice movement. Write a book. Paint a picture. Program a video game.
The one thing you have absolutely no fucking right to do? Sit around and purposely do nothing and then complain that you haven’t accomplished anything. The only reason your life is meaningless, Hazel, is because you’re hellbent on making it meaningless because you find it dramatic and think it gives you license to look down on other people who have worked their asses off to make happiness for themselves.
Moving on. Dinner is over, and McDutch’s name comes up three times, so it gets three of these:
RANDOM CAPITALIZATION: 68
They go sit on a park bench and Gus puts his arm around her.
I could see the halo of light coming from the Red Light District. Even though it was the Red Light District, the glow coming from up there was an eerie sort of green. I imagined thousands of tourists getting drunk and stoned and pinballing around the narrow streets.
Hazel… uh, do you know what a Red Light District is? Booze isn’t really the main appeal.
“I can’t believe he’s going to tell us tomorrow,” I said. “Peter Van Houten is going to tell us the famously unwritten end of the best book ever.”
RANDOM CAPITALIZATION: 69
HOT GREEN ON GREEN ACTION: 33
My God make it stop.
Hazel raves on about how amazing it’s going to be for a while, and Gus asks what her guess as to the ending is. She says that the book is so amazing, she has a different theory every time she reads it because it just blows her mind with how deep and nuanced it is. Ah, I see– Green just wanted to make it clear there was no way he could have written such a book.
HOT GREEN ON GREEN ACTION: 34
Sorry, that was unusually vitriolic.
I have to say, I’ve never found myself having such a… personal reaction to an awful book before. In my past life when I was doing Harry Potter, I had accusations of being jealous of Rowling and hating on her, but quite the opposite is true– she seems like a good person and she’s a great businesswoman, she just happens to have written a crappy book. My hate for the series is completely and utterly independent of the author. And up until this point, it always has been. A lot of people are just people who also happen to be bad writers in public and for some reason make money being bad and I muse about their badness while recognizing that they put their socks on one foot at a time like the rest of us.
Even for books like Wither or Twilight, where they are really morally awful, my reaction is never really anger… it just makes me sad. I tend to pity those kind of authors, because that’s such an awful worldview to have and it’s so harmful and it’s just depressing.
But the way Green presents himself is something I’ve never encountered before, and you guys have picked up on my confusion, too. I’ve never dealt with an author who seems so incredibly full of themselves for no reason and who
comes across as honestly believing they are God’s gift to humankind. I would hate being around a person like that in real life, and I hate it in this context, too.
I don’t know what to do with that hate, though. I really do think authors and their works, for a project like this, need to be kept separate, and further, that my personal feelings about an author have no place in an analysis, but when
the issues with a book are so tied up in the author’s seemingly horrible personality, how do you do that? As you all have seen, you just can’t. I’ve really been struggling with that, and the best answer I can come up with as to how to deal with it without compromising my integrity as a reviewer is to… analyze it.
The way I see it, one of two things are going on here, and there’s no way for me to truly know which it is:
The first option is that Green really, really badly needs to hire a PR rep. He’s just a dude enjoying success, and he has no idea how he comes across and he doesn’t mean to be the biggest asshole ever. I think everyone can empathize with this– sometimes we’re just misinterpreted, and some people just walk around with their feet in the mouths. This is especially true in the arts, where people can interpret things in a multitude of ways and writing an accidental message into a book is something that happens. This doesn’t absolve him completely, as we as people as responsible for not being assholes on a day-to-day basis, but it does leave room for him being a normal guy who has a serious problem presenting himself and his thoughts. Incidentally, if all of this is unintentional, wow is he an even worse writer than I originally thought.
The other option, of course, is that Green is genuinely an egomaniacal douchebag and has some kind of just-world fallacy going on in his head due to his success. I mean, look at this! And I once unwittingly stumbled onto a screencap of one of his tweets (and by God, you cannot pay me to go find it) in which he said, “Why did
I have to make FiOS so sad???” What am I supposed to do with that?! How do I patiently and kindly spend hours upon hours with someone whom any sane person would just punch in the face?
Either way here, though, the end result is the same.
My goal in parsing these books for you is to present as real an encapsulation of my feelings, reactions, and thoughts in as honest a way as possible. That’s the reason I only read one chapter at a time: often, some things are explained as the book goes on, but if they confuse me as I’m reading I want to point that out, and I think that I might not if I read ahead. My goal is to discuss the impression something gives as I’m reading it and discuss why I have those thoughts and feelings as well as what it could mean for the work as a whole. If those feelings are unbridled anger and migraines, so be it– it would be antithetical to the way I think this should be done to filter those reactions.
However, this book has put me in a situation I can only describe as just uncomfortable. I have never in my life had such a personal and passionate negative reaction to a book, and I am not okay with it! I don’t like the idea of having this hateful rage toward a stranger! I am not cool with just how Goddamn angry this book makes me! I honestly can’t even talk about it to anyone IRL; it makes me so mad I just can’t handle it. That’s why it’s taken me so long to do this. Just thinking about Green makes my blood boil. And that reaction weirds me the fuck out. I’m pretty sure it’s not healthy.
I guess my point is this: I honestly think that reading this book is making me a worse person, and I am so sorry.
Back to our abominable story.
She asks him if he has any ideas about how the book ends, and he actually has an elaborate headcanon for the rest of the characters’ lives.
I hadn’t realized he’d thought about the book so much, that An Imperial Affliction mattered to Gus independently of me mattering to him.
“I hadn’t realized that the entire known universe didn’t revolve around me.” Also note the weird implication that Gus is so affected and fake that Hazel genuinely thought he was pretending to love the book to get in her pants.
We have some of the most extraneous detail ever in which Hazel leans into him and he cries out in pain because her shoulder is bony. In addition to being so incredibly unnecessary I lament the time of my life I will never be getting back, what, was she smashing her arm into his kidney or something?
This could be another point for my “Gus is dying and won’t tell anyone” theory, except that Hazel totally buys that it’s her shoulder, so again I ask: what was she doing?
They sit there for a while staring off into space, and we get another one of those brief How the Book Should Have Been moments:
I was thinking a lot about how they’d made this place exist even though it should’ve been underwater, and how I was for Dr. Maria a kind of Amsterdam, a half-drowned anomaly, and that made me think about dying. “Can I ask you about Caroline Mathers?”
“And you say there’s no afterlife,” he answered without looking at me. “But yeah, of course. What do you want to know?”
I wanted to know that he would be okay if I died. I wanted to not be a grenade, to not be a malevolent force in the lives of people I loved. “Just, like, what happened.”
Instead of talking for the first time about what it’s like actually battling cancer (hah, like THAT would be in this book), we parley into the most vile series of passages yet.
I was all awash in the metaphorical resonance of the empty playground in the hospital courtyard. But then this girl started showing up alone at the playground, every day, swinging on a swing completely alone, like you’d see in a movie or something.
How does anyone like this book.
“You’re not that charismatic,” I said. He scoffed, disbelieving. “You’re mostly just hot,” I explained.
Truly, a romance for the ages. I also can’t help but feel that this was partly to reinforce Hazel’s awesomeness– she landed the HOTTEST GUY EVAH– but it’s not explicit enough to merit a point.
He explains that it turns out Caroline was kind of a shitty person. Well, maybe if you didn’t date people based on whether or not they played into your grandiose fantasies of philosophical importance, this wouldn’t happen.
“ […] Like, you are familiar with the trope of the stoic and determined cancer victim who heroically fights her cancer with inhuman strength and never complains or stops smiling even at the very end, etcetera?”
“Indeed,” I said. “They are kindhearted and generous souls whose every breath is an Inspiration to Us All. They’re so strong! We admire them so!”
RANDOM CAPITALIZATION: 70
HOT GREEN ON GREEN ACTION: 35
For the umpteemth time, Green: The story you’re writing is a cliche.
Fortunately, this ailment has no ill effects other than adding a poignant cough to the appropriate sentences […] Always Female, always innocent and pure, always dying of some disease that is very slow at actually killing her. […] she and everyone around her will spend their time poignantly musing on her death. Her proximity to the eternal will give her immense wisdom and insight, and she will be a neverending source of advice and comfort to her caretakers. And when she finally slips the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God, those around her will smile through their tears and rejoice that her pure soul is now freed from this dirty world.
That? Is from TV Tropes, you egotistical fuckhead. And, you holier-than-thou ignoramus, it’s a fucking Victorian novel trope.
Here’s a fun list of other Stories About How Cancer Really Is! No other disease, just Cancer Stories.
Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy (This one comes in both book AND movie format!)
The Probability of Miracles (The summary’s first line: “Dry, sarcastic, sixteen-year-old Cam Cooper has spent the last seven years in and out hospitals.”)
Lopsided: How Having Breast Cancer Can Be Really Distracting
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
BEAST – A Slightly Irreverent Tale About Cancer
It has all been done before. All of it. Every last goddamn fucking thing. And to constantly insist that it hasn’t, and further insist that you’re the only one who ever noticed it hasn’t, requires such an incredible ignorance of literature, criticism, and human history that you should not be allowed to ever say anything about storytelling again and you should be slapped because what is wrong with you that you think you’re that wonderful?
Anyway. Ugh. Argh.
Gus says that they spent all their time talking about how much better they were than everyone else. He really has a type, eh?
Turns out Caroline has a brain tumor, and she was slowly losing her mind.
“[…] one of her nurses told me once that the kind of tumor Caroline had is known among medical types as the Asshole Tumor, because it just turns you into a monster. So here’s this girl missing a fifth of her brain who’s just had a recurrence of the Asshole Tumor, and so she was not, you know, the paragon of stoic cancer-kid heroism. She was . . . I mean, to be honest, she was a bitch.”
Oh. See, Gus, when you said she was a bitch before, I assumed you meant she was a shitty person. But what you really meant was, “She had a horrible degenerative illness that was slowly eating her mind away and causing her to say horrible things she probably didn’t mean, and that was really hard on me, Gus, the important person in this equation.”
I just do not even. The ending of this chapter is a veritable parade of manpain and dehumanization.
But of course, there is never a bad time for some good ol’ fashion fapping:
“You know that part in An Imperial Affliction […] I don’t remember the line but it’s something like Anna having the
Whitmanesque revelation that the definition of humanness is the opportunity to marvel at the majesty of creation […]
This is hilarious. Green knows that his Amazing Book of Amazingness totally has the protagonist having a “Whitmanesque revelation” because Whitman, right? Anyone who can allude to Whitman is totes smart, bro, and if John Green isn’t the smartest smart to ever smart, well, no one is. But he couldn’t actually write the line. He couldn’t come up with anything! So we just have this assurance that the line totally exists because duh, but we don’t actually get to know what it is because Green is a hack.
HOT GREEN ON GREEN ACTION: 36
Because he totally wrote that epic line, guys. And Whitman, because Whitman. I should really give it one for each of those things, but I won’t because it left me so damn speechless, albeit in the exact opposite way it intended to.
So Gus goes into remission, but Caroline just gets worse and worse.
[…] she had no filter between her thoughts and her speech, which was sad and unpleasant and frequently hurtful. […] It took forever. It took almost a year, and it was a year of me hanging out with this girl who would, like, just start laughing out of nowhere and point at my prosthetic and call me Stumpy. […] I mean, she’d just repeat the same stories and laugh at her own comments even if she’d already said the same thing a hundred times that day. Like, she made the same joke over and over again for weeks: ‘Gus has great legs. I mean leg.’ And then she would just laugh like a maniac.”
Yeah, Gus. That must have been really hard for you. It must really suck to have to be nice to someone who is dying in a horrible way that robs them of their entire selves and they don’t even know it. It must be so hard to be around that person. And God, it just took forever for her to die. What a bitch, you know? Real women know to die quickly when their existences get trying for the men in their lives.
Hazel is all, “Oh Gus, your mainpain is so incredible!”
“Well,” he said, “to be fair, I do have great leg.”
Oh, I see. Stupid jokes are only okay when you make them, but when the girl with a brain tumor preventing her from writing new memories makes them a lot because she can’t remember them, she’s a bitch. Makes perfect sense.
Hazel continues to have the vapors about how a family having to watch their daughter mentally regress and then disappear until she finally died as a young teenager was really hard on Gus.
And you know, it wouldn’t be a terrible backstory if it were actually about her. The idea that someone’s death is emotionally draining for everyone involved is valid. But that’s not what the point of this story is, and it’s not the content either. We don’t hear about how Gus was emotionally beat and it was horrible to see someone else suffering, he just calls her a dumb bitch over and over and talks about how put-upon he was. This story is set-dressing, and Gus is using a really tragic and horrible death as a way to make himself look better.
…actually, that sounds nice and familiar, doesn’t it? How deliciously meta.
“I don’t ever want to do that to you,” I told him.
What, die in a terrible and dehumanizing way? Oh, you mean cause him manpain and them force him to mock and deride you after your death. Right.
“Oh, I wouldn’t mind, Hazel Grace. It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you.”
HOT GREEN ON GREEN ACTION: 37
I have another migraine.