Sunday, March 24, 2013

Reading in the Classroom: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

I told myself at the beginning of this year that I would be reading more of my middle school students' books: young adult, graphic novels, middle grades novels. My post-baby reading habits have slowed to almost-nil, save the reading I do on my iPhone via the Kindle app. Ebooks are my primary form of reading material for the moment, reading that is snuck in during midnight feedings and naps. However, I have recently been utilizing some previously unused reading time: the five or ten minutes each class period when my students are reading their independent books. For a few minutes after I take attendance and check in with my students about their reading, I have been stealing some time for myself.

My thought process is two-fold. A) I am modeling silent, sustained reading for them. B) I make sure that the books I am reading in front of them are books that they would be interested in reading, ones that I might recommend to them during our weekly book commercials. I recently read The Fault in Our Stars entirely at school during snatched minutes here and there. I think it's excellent for my students to see me engrossed in a book and to hear me say, "Five more minutes! I have to finish this chapter!"

The Fault in Our Stars was a phenomenal book, which is something you can read almost anywhere on the internet. I'm not going to make this a lengthy review because, again, that's something you can read many, many places on the world wide web. Instead, I'm going to discuss why it was important for me to read this book in my classroom.

John Green tells the story of Hazel Lancaster, a teenager with a complete understanding of the life cycle. You see, she has an incurable cancer. A pharmaceutical trial turned out really well for her; she happened upon a drug which does exactly what she needs it to do -- prolong her life. Thus, her incurable cancer has been transformed from an imminent-death disease to a probably-death-at-some-point-in-the-future-but-not-now disease. Despite this life-lengthening miracle, Hazel still has plenty on her plate. She must cart around an oxygen tank, for starters. And from time to time she lands herself in ICU, anyway.

Because of her illness, Hazel completed high school rather early and now attends some classes at the local community college. All of this spells disaster for her social life. Her old friends have continued living high school drama, and college students are largely uninterested in this sixteen-year-old in their midst. Her parents, doting and devoted, push her to attend a cancer kids support group, which Hazel grudgingly does. One night her world shifts from terribly boring to infinitely interesting when gorgeous former basketball star Augustus Waters walks into the group's feelings-sharing circle in a church basement.

The Fault in Our Stars was beautifully written and one of the most engaging novels I can remember reading. My students delighted in watching me read it, as I laughed out loud, shared lines and paragraphs with them, and postponed finishing it until I was in private because I knew there would be no way for me to extricate myself from the novel without tears. My students could hardly wait for me to finish so they could fight over who would check it out next from our school library.

I finally felt, with my reading of The Fault in Our Stars, that I could at last show my students what it means to fall head over heels in love with a book -- with the characters, with their predicaments, with the plot ups and downs. They heard it in my discussions with them, but more importantly they saw it on my face and in my body language as I read. No, not read -- pored over the pages, experienced emotions with the characters, traveled to Denmark with them. Visited Anne Frank's house and read her words in the space she inhabited during her hiding (yes, there is more to the book than a kids cancer group).

John Green's The Fault in Our Stars is exactly the kind of novel I want to share with my classes: at once interesting, smart, funny, and sad. I recommend it for fairly mature students in upper middle school and above, although given my feelings about it, I believe adults can enjoy it every bit as much as younger readers. Green has written several other novels that I will be reading soon, and my fingers are crossed as I look for my next book and hope it is every bit as good a title to share with my emerging readers.

3 comments:

  1. Excellent review! I've been hearing all sorts of wonderful things about THE FAULT IN OUR STARS all over the web. this is one i need to read as soon as possible!

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  2. The Anne Frank House is in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, not Denmark.

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