Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Success in Our Stars

Last Thursday, my friend Rachel joined me for the "midnight" (8:30) premiere of The Fault in Our Stars, cleverly dubbed "The Night Before Our Stars." I was explicitly nervous about the film, because Shailenne Woodley didn't look like the Hazel I'd imagined. I'm not usually picky about these things, particularly not in a superficial way, but the book describes Hazel as looking like early 2000s Natalie Portman, which is very specific. That combined with the fact that she got diagnosed with cancer at thirteen--something that would generally cause some growth stunting--made Shailenne seem too healthy for the part, to me. Then again, John Green continually said that they got the movie right, and I tend to have faith in him, at least in regards to this book.

Turns out, trusting in John Green is not a popular point-of-view on the internet these days. He's getting a lot of flack from bloggers for a comment made in praise of the film director about Hazel being the one to kiss Gus in the film. I have a lot of thoughts about the people complaining about this, but mostly I feel that everyone involved is missing an opportunity to discuss far more important things about this film.

Is it important to examine it from a feminist perspective, particularly because the book was written and the film directed by guys? Absolutely. But to me, and to a lot of other people, who kisses whom is not the important part about that scene. What impacted me was watching Hazel struggle up the staircases in the Anne Frank House*--one of which might as well be a ladder--with Anne's voice playing in the background. To some degree, seeing that on screen is important to me because I've been there. I dragged myself up those stairs, leaning on my cane, slowing down the old British tourists behind me. I found myself thinking If Anne could do what she did, I can do this. In a way, that's as much whistling in the dark as Augustus's parents' encouragements. My life is not comparable to Anne's anymore than broccoli affects the taste of chocolate. But the thought got me up the stairs, even though with every step I thought I wouldn't make it.

I was on my own that day. I didn't have encouragement from a nice Dutch lady, or a hot guy. Standing in a historical spot was my reward. But it paid off further Thursday night, sitting in that movie theater. For the first time, I watched a protagonist's physical struggle, and I didn't feel alienated the way I do whenever I watch Katniss running through jungle, or Harry Potter diving for a snitch. I didn't think I'd never survive that. I thought, Oh, I've done that.

I'm twenty-five. I've got connections to the disability world, and I know that people with disabilities and chronic illness can have adventures, fall in love, and be a part of the world, even if it means having to take machines with them to Amsterdam and wear oxygen while having sex. I didn't know that at sixteen, and maybe that's why I still have trouble believing it.

I don't particularly care whether the girl on oxygen kissed the boy with one leg first. I care that they kissed at all. I care that the hot love interest used a prosthetic leg (I do wish he'd been an actor who was an amputee, but it's a start.) I care that the girl's dad warned the boy that she might not be able to keep up, and he wasn't scared away. I care that these characters are that they're teenagers, and they're readers, and they're adventurous, and pretentious, and so many other things, on top of being visibly disabled. Meaning that teens (people) with disabilities and chronic illness can say "I can do that," about what they see on screen, instead of "I'd never be able to do that."

And, yes, my fave is problematic in other ways. No, this isn't the only YA novel ever to feature characters with disabilities and chronic illness (but I've read a bunch of them, and most don't balance it out nearly as well.) But I think it's important to talk about what it does right, too, because the book wasn't just successful because of who wrote it--at least not with me--it was successful because it reflected my reality in a way most media hadn't.

Basically, what's way more important than who initiated the kiss is that it happened at all.

*I am not Jewish. I have seen objections to the two non-Jews kissing in the Anne Frank House, but do not feel I can speak to this except to say that John worked with the Anne Frank Trust in creating this section. Not to say that it cannot be offensive to some people. Of course it can. But to me--a non-Jew who has been influenced by Anne's diary and the museum--it reads as hopeful.


  1. Chelsey, I doubt you remember me but I have known your mom since you were a little girl. I haven't seen her or you in years but have been following you through her Facebook posts. I am so impressed with your thoughtful writing. Good luck to you in the future. I look forward to seeing your first book and being able to tell everyone that I knew her when...

  2. Hi Chelsey!
    First, I must admit that I'm partial to your name. If I had been blessed with a daughter, I would have named her, Chelsey! Although I have never met you, I have somewhat followed/learned about you through FB and your mom's posts. Paula and I grew up together in East Pensacola Heights and were good friends when we were young. It's been a long, long time, and we lost touch for many years so I'm thrilled to learn that she had such a talented daughter. I am eager to read more of your work! Best of luck!