Ugh. What . . . what happened? How long has it been?
Wait, seriously? It’s been 3 weeks? Again?
Damn it. I was doing so well at being punctual, too. How did this even happen?
Okay, so I’ve finally emerged from my food coma and it’s time to — once again — return to the marvelous land of John Green, which I’ve talked about over and over and over. And somehow the book doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter. When does it end, John?
Well, I’ve had a nice long break. Time to buck myself up with a nice cute gif —
— put on my big girl pants, and get to snarkin’.
We start Chapter 4 by finally learning what An Imperial Affliction is about:
AIA is about this girl named Anna (who narrates the story) and her one-eyed mom, who is a professional gardener obsessed with tulips, and they have a normal lower-middle-class life in a little central California town until Anna gets this rare blood cancer.
You don’t know what “normal” means, do you? Because it’s not the wacky adventures of One-Eyed Mom and her tulips. But I can never be pleased, so continue.
But it’s not a cancer book, because cancer books suck. Like, in cancer books, the cancer person starts a charity that raises money to fight cancer, right? And this commitment to charity reminds the cancer person of the essential goodness of humanity and makes him/her feel loved and encouraged because s/he will leave a cancer-curing legacy. But in AIA, Anna decides that being a person with cancer who starts a cancer charity is a bit narcissistic, so she starts a charity called The Anna Foundation for People with Cancer Who Want to Cure Cholera.
I hate when authors congratulate themselves about writing amazing books. Books that are totally not like what all those other hacks are writing! This is unique! It’s special!
And I’ve noticed only really bad authors do this . . . probably because talented authors know better than to be arrogant about their own abilities, because they realize that there is always someone better out there.
Besides, most “cancer books” — which I assume sit on the bookshelf right next to “terrible YA romances with aggressively unlikable characters” — aren’t actually like that. Sure, some are, because sometimes people with cancer (or people with loved ones who have cancer) like to read heartwarming, inspirational books rather than long slogs of misery. But plenty of cancer books are long slogs of misery, so AIA isn’t actually as unique as you seem to think it is.
But I can see why you like this book: the main character is a total ass. “Being a person with cancer who starts a cancer charity is a bit narcissistic”? It’s narcissistic to want to spare other people the suffering you know so intimately? To do good so that your struggles have some positive outcome? To want to make sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that your life meant something?
I appreciate that Anna, in her not-at-all-narcissistic way, made sure to name her foundation after herself, mock other people who’ve tried to raise money for cancer, and instead focus on a disease that’s both highly treatable and preventable.
To be fair, cholera is a big problem in areas where clean water isn’t available, and causes more than 100,000 deaths a year. There are plenty of foundations dedicated to helping alleviate this problem, like the World Health Organization, UNICEF, Charity: Water, or The Water Project, where you can learn more about preventative measures and support their efforts.
Of course, we’re not told whether Anna actually does make a difference. For all we know, I’ve just done more to cure cholera than she ever did in her bitter, resentful campaign that isn’t actually about helping people.
An Imperial Affliction sounds exactly like Hazel’s kind of book, so I guess Green gets points for consistency. (That puts him at -3,701 points, in case you were curious. It’s based on a carefully calibrated mathematical system and definitely isn’t a number I just made up.) One thing makes the book stand out, though, besides its apparent awfulness: it ends in the middle of a sentence, making it possibly the most cliffhanger-y thing ever done in the history of literature.
Sunshine doesn’t take this well:
I understood the story ended because Anna died or got too sick to write and this midsentence thing was supposed to reflect how life really ends and whatever, but there were characters other than Anna in the story, and it seemed unfair that I would never find out what happened to them. I’d written, care of his publisher, a dozen letters to Peter Van Houten, each asking for some answers about what happens after the end of the story: whether the Dutch Tulip Man is a con man, whether Anna’s mother ends up married to him, what happens to Anna’s stupid hamster (which her mom hates), whether Anna’s friends graduate from high school—all that stuff. But he’d never responded to any of my letters.
But she doesn’t just want a sequel; she demands one.
I imagined that he was working on a sequel set in the Netherlands—maybe Anna’s mom and the Dutch Tulip Man end up moving there and trying to start a new life. But it had been ten years since An Imperial Affliction came out, and Van Houten hadn’t published so much as a blog post. I couldn’t wait forever.
This kind of attitude really pisses me off.
Sunshine isn’t entitled to a sequel, or even to a proper ending. For one thing, clearly this guy doesn’t want to be bothered . When someone leaves the country and refuses to answer your letters, it’s a pretty clear message that he doesn’t want to talk to you.
And it’s outrageous to me that she wants an ending in the first place, since she seems to understand the point of books that don’t end: it’s supposed to symbolize how real life doesn’t tie everything up in a neat bow, and illustrate that the complex nature of reality can’t be summed up in a single story, because people’s stories never truly end. Or, if they do, you don’t get to know about them. Every book can’t pull off this kind of ending, but it’s a beautiful thing when done well.
This is kinda personal to me, because two of my favorite book series end this way. Yes, they’re both for children. And . . . yes, one of them is Animorphs.
It (SPOILER ALERT) ends on a pretty epic cliffhanger where all the main characters probably die (END SPOILERS), and it made a lot of fans very angry. And to an extent I can understand: you meet characters, fall in love with them, and you want to see what happens. And when an author pulls the rug out from under your feet, it’s very frustrating.
But then you start to think about why it’s frustrating, and why they decided to do that in the first place. And if it’s a good enough reason, that ending will encapsulate the entire spirit of the book(s) — it’ll be the entire point of the book(s), in fact. That’s how Animorphs worked, as the author explained in an awesome letter to her fans. Ditto for another one of my favorites, A Series of Unfortunate Events. I’d go into the long and boring details of that one’s thematic relevance, but we’re only two pages into this chapter and already at 1,300 words, so I’m just gonna leave this awesome fake poster here and continue:
Some stories need endings, especially Good vs. Evil tales. Harry Potter needed to end. Lord of the Rings needed to end. But when stories are more ambiguous, sometimes the best thing to do is leave an ending as open . . . ended. (If I never see the word “end” again for the rest of my life, I’ll be very happy.)
Anyway. Sunshine isn’t entitled to anything, and like George R. R. Martin, this Van Houten guy is not your bitch.
So, as promised, she calls Mr. Psycho about the book he’d given her:
Price of Dawn review: Too many bodies. Not enough adjectives.
You know, most bad writing suffers from too many adjectives. Just a thought.
They chat and flirt and it’s adorable, I’m sure, just as I’m sure Mr. Psycho smiles really creepily and makes everyone uncomfortable.
Okay, okay. To be fair, the next day he sends her a series of texts that are kind of charming:
Tell me my copy is missing the last twenty pages or something.
Hazel Grace, tell me I have not reached the end of this book.
OH MY GOD DO THEY GET MARRIED OR NOT OH MY GOD WHAT IS THIS
I guess Anna died and so it just ends? CRUEL. Call me when you can. Hope all’s okay.
What can I say? Passion about books is my weakness.
So when I got home I went out into the backyard and sat down on this rusting latticed patio chair and called him. It was a cloudy day, typical Indiana: the kind of weather that boxes you in. Our little backyard was dominated by my childhood swing set, which was looking pretty waterlogged and pathetic.
For a book that demands more adjectives, this one is pretty bare of descriptions, poetic or otherwise. This is one of the only times she actually bothers to paint a picture for us, but it’s not like we’re swept into the story or anything. I can’t picture her backyard. Can you?
Augustus picked up on the third ring. “Hazel Grace,” he said.
This is a stupid greeting. I was originally going to let it go, but he says it several times in the next few chapters. He knows that’s not how normal people answer the phone, right?
I wish this existed in the pre-caller-ID days, so I could picture him sitting by the phone for hours, saying that to everyone who called until it was finally her. He seems clingy and weird enough to actually do it, too.
“So welcome to the sweet torture of reading An Imperial —” I stopped when I heard violent sobbing on the other end of the line. “Are you okay?” I asked.
Thank God she didn’t finish that line or I would’ve had to gouge my eyes out.
It turns out Everyone’s Favorite Plot Point (Isaac for short) is having an emotional breakdown, so Mr. Psycho asks Sunshine to come over and comfort him. Apparently he believes that her tender kindness and ceaseless optimism will buck up his spirits.
Or, you know, they’ll just flirt back and forth and forget about Guy Who Desperately Needs Better Friends (Isaac for short) once his job of bringing them together has been fulfilled. It could go either way, honestly.
She agrees, and apparently her mom is okay with this. Sunshine can’t drive to class or her support group, but she can totally disappear to someone’s house that she barely knows. Give this woman a Mom of the Year award.
If you could drive in a straight line, it would only take like five minutes to get from my house to Augustus’s house, but you can’t drive in a straight line because Holliday Park is between us.
Even though it was a geographic inconvenience, I really liked Holliday Park. When I was a little kid, I would wade in the White River with my dad and there was always this great moment when he would throw me up in the air, just toss me away from him, and I would reach out my arms as I flew and he would reach out his arms, and then we would both see that our arms were not going to touch and no one was going to catch me, and it would kind of scare the shit out of both of us in the best possible way, and then I would legs-flailingly hit the water and then come up for air uninjured and the current would bring me back to him as I said again, Daddy, again.
Objection: how is this relevant?
I guess you could say she’s giving us some insight into her relationship with her dad, and normally I’m all for character development, but . . . we’ve never seen her father. We’ve barely seen her interact with her mother. In fact, for all we know her dad’s dead, (which actually would be cool, because it’d explain her mom’s obsessive overprotectiveness in a nice Finding Nemo kinda way). We don’t know if they’re still this, or if not, what happened to separate them. We don’t know if she’s sad, happy, something in between, or even bored. She’s just . . . describing that the park exists, and that she’s been there.
We learn nothing about her, nothing about her dad, and unless this has some kind of metaphorical or symbolic importance, I’m gonna have to declare it
She gets to Mr. Psycho’s house without incident, but you’re just gonna have to wait and see what happens next time, because I am done with this nonsense for today. Hopefully it won’t be an entire month before I see you lovelies again, but who knows?
Maybe I’ll get lucky and a meteor will destroy the Earth, erasing this book from existence.
A girl can dream, can’t she?