How this young adult fiction book helped me bond with my teens

A good book has the capacity to draw you in and keep you close long after the last words are read. As a pimply, frizzy haired teenager I was always on the hunt for that elusive book that would talk to the angst of being an adolescent – one foot in the world of a teen, one in the almost-world of being a grown up. I remember being keen for everything to start happening, I wanted a great love, a gang of friends who saw me through the transition from high school to university and for people to just get me.

Teenagers don’t willingly let us into the inner workings of their day-to-day lives. How they view the world, what it feels like, and the depth of emotions that parents keep getting warned about. A time our community views as being fraught with difficulty and disconnection.

So how can we connect in other ways?

The power of a good book.
The power of a good book. Photo: Getty

Last year a friend messaged me with a picture of John Green’s New York Times Bestselling book, The Fault in our Stars, she told me that her teenage daughter had insisted she read it. She had stumbled into the kitchen eyes red from crying and needed to hear and see the same reactions on her mum's face. That it too would have a profound impact on her.

There are complete sections of the internet devoted to John Green and his novels – his first book Looking for Alaska was released in 2005 after his religious vocation to be a church minister lessened and his need to write consumed him. The way he explores the space for young people, between the need to connect with others and the realistic portrayal of life, resonates with teenagers and their inside voice. His characters would traditionally sit on the periphery as what we might define as popular – he gives voice to the outsiders.

I purchased his most popular book and like most things in my life it gathered dust on my bedside table for the next 6 months. This summer I dusted it off as we headed from Sydney to the Gold Coast for our annual family holiday. The Fault in Our Stars is not your typical young adult angsty reflection - the novel explores the complexity of being alive and in love. Of two characters – Hazel and Augustus – whose complex narratives weave through you as you hear about one multifarious year in their 17-year-old lives.

I read the book in one day, sprawled across the lounge room floor of our holiday apartment. Shaking my head at offers to go down to the pool, wanting to turn page after page to see what happened to a young couple in love. On the last page I put my head down in the book and sobbed and sobbed. My chest hurt. As I got myself together again my eldest stepdaughter walked back in to the flat – 14, and just on the edge of becoming the gorgeous young person she is growing up to be. I thrust the book into her hand and told her to read it, that I needed someone to share the story with me.

And so the next day, as I wandered past her room I saw the same image. A mess of hair, face down in the pages of a novel crying as the relationship between the two characters came to life in her head. We then passed the book on to her younger sister who read it with ferocity wanting to see what we had found and what sadness and joy sat within those pages.

The last paragraph of the book has been slowly preparing us for the Australian release of the film (based on the book) this week. ‘She is so beautiful. You don’t get tired of looking at her. You never worry if she is smarter then you: You know she is’ writes Augustus of Hazel. Each time I think that our children are growing older, that we have less and less opportunity to connect, new ways of sharing happen.

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Stories transform the way we look at the world but they also transform the way we share them. Ill pack the tissues as we head off to the cinema – for the three of us.

Have you read The Fault in Our Stars – did you share it with your teen?

Sarah Wayland is a mum of 2, a step-mum of 2 more. Connect with her on twitter here. 

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