Ma Book’s Club

“There is only one thing in this world shittier than biting it from cancer when you’re sixteen, and that’s having a kid who bites it from cancer.”

My mom never finished Lolita. She started it when I was 12-years-old, the same age as Lolita herself, and found it too upsetting. She revealed this when I was in the throes of my Nabokov obsession (college) and I stared at her in disbelief. How can you read only one half of a masterpiece? Now, 20 years later and 8 months into motherhood, I get it. I too have started reading through the mama lens.
I don’t usually cry while reading. But when I read The Fault in Our Stars, I cried not only for Hazel and Gus, two teenagers coping with cancer, but also for their parents.  Mrs. Lancaster, Hazel’s indomitable mother, remains remarkably steady throughout the story.  But she is also human. Wailing, “I’m not going to be a mom anymore!” as she tells Hazel it’s okay to let go (of life), Mrs. Lancaster’s perkiness so tellingly masks deeper, scarier emotions.
Has your reading style evolved since you became a mom? Below are a couple of questions to jumpstart the first installment of The Ma Books book club. Feel free to comment anytime and come back in September when we’ll be discussing Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, a fun glimpse of motherhood in the 1950s.
Why is Mrs. Lancaster so set on celebrating every little thing? Is she over-celebratory or is it justified?
How do Hazel’s mom and Augustus’s mom react differently to their children’s illnesses? How do they react similarly?
Why does Mrs. Lancaster hide from Hazel that she’s been taking classes?
Do you think of Mrs. Lancaster as a helicopter parent?
Book Available Here 

19 Responses

  • I’m so glad you are starting a book club. I had actually just decided that I needed to start reading actual books again. (The internet has killed too many of my brain cells.) The thing was I could not figure out for the life of me where to begin. Thanks for the direction.

    And thank you for this little space here. You are doing good work.

  • I am very happy you are starting a book club! I ordered the volume and can’t wait to start it.
    As a new mom who prides her self in having a brain and enjoys talking about things other than baby products, your blog is a breath of fresh air!

  • Love this! I thought Hazel’s mom was realistically portrayed, considering what she was going through. Can’t imagine losing a child to cancer…

    • I know! I have so much admiration for Hazel’s mom and all mothers like her. (Not to mention, all mothers in general.)

  • an on-line book club for mothers — what a great idea! “enjoyed” the book, but found it so hard to read, cause the subject was a mom’s worst nightmare, and it was a situation i really didn’t want to relate to. would love to know how others dealt with it?

  • yes! Books feel like such a long lost love to me these days. This is so great. And there is so much goodness in the real/thoughtful posts here.

  • Found this one on ebay and ordered myself a copy! (I have yet to read the Fault in Our Stars despite many recommendations because yes, I definitely have a difficult time reading anything that plucks at my mother’s heart. I am anxious enough without worrying more than I already do, so I definitely avoid as much *extra* imagining the terrible as possible. Perhaps that makes me a bit of a coward…)

    • Cassie, I don’t think you’re a coward at all! But ‘Fault in Our Stars’ is worth reading if you can stomach the actual subject matter. It’s actually pretty funny and heartwarming. And you are going to love ‘Please Don’t Eat the Daisies’. Looking forward to discussing it with you!

  • I loved the Fault in Our Stars, I agree the subject matter is difficult, but I think there’s also something oddly comforting about identifying with Hazel and seeing the parents through her eyes. The “I’m not going to be a mother” moment is so heartbreaking, but I was really glad John Green didn’t gloss over all the thoughts and stages of grief a person would have to go through during such a difficult period. I think that’s why Hazel was so determined to learn what happened to Anna’s mom in Peter Van Houten’s book, because if we can have some reassurance that our fictional characters survive and continue on with their lives, then maybe there’s hope for the rest of us too. I know some people find Hazel’s mom and Laura Dern’s portrayal of her in the movie annoyingly upbeat, but to me that’s so representative of motherhood. Sometimes you have to your lowest moments in private. I can honestly say there was nothing more that scared me growing up then when I saw my parents crumble or cry or express fear. I agree that Gus’s mom is almost trying a little too hard with all the positive affirmations framed on every wall of the house, but there’s also that subtle moment where she doesn’t let Hazel in the hospital room, because it’s family only. Green could have really vilified that character in that scene, but I found it completely realistic that some things are sacred between parent and child. Oh and lastly, I didn’t think of Hazel’s mom as a helicopter parent– I was actually impressed by how much independence she gives her on the trip to Amsterdam, considering her condition. Anyway, I could go on and on about this book. I loved it so much. Excited for Please Don’t Eat the Daisies in September!

    • Saara, that is such a good point! I never made the connection between what was going on in Hazel’s life and her obsession with Peter Van Houten’s book. And I completely agree about a mother’s need to remain upbeat, but I do have to say that Laura Dern’s depiction of Hazel’s mom did not seem true to the novel. Her approach was almost too casual for me, if that makes sense. I also appreciated Green’s subtlety with all of the characters, because you’re totally right: he could’ve gone overboard with Gus’s mom. I do, however, think Hazel’s mom was a bit of a helicopter parent, but how could you not be in that situation??

  • So, two years ago I had my third child, a petite little girl who we named Hazel Grace. I believe The Fault in our Stars was published the January prior to her birth – but once people heard our new baby’s name, they would say – “is her name Hazel Grace!?! You’ve got to read this book!” So, as you can imagine, after the first two pages, I knew I would sob through the whole thing. And – I did! But it was a beautiful read, and it made me think. It being the first book I’d read in years (I had 3 kids in under 4 years so not much reading was happening besides board books) and it made me remember the importance of good literature and taking a little time for me, to read. I loved the book, and though we didnt name our daughter after the character in the book, I am happy she shares her name 🙂

    • Tysha, that is amazing!! What a beautiful name and a beautiful coincidence. Wow, that must’ve added an extra level of heartbreak to the novel. I can’t wait for your daughter to realize she has the coolest name ever! Also, you are a hero for having 3 kids in under four years. I hope you have more time for reading now & I promise the rest of the picks are going to be more lighthearted.

  • We read Fault in Our Stars in our book club (I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the Chemical Reaction Book Club, Toby? We’re kind of a big deal) and I was pleasantly surprised at how a YA novel could tug at our heart strings so deeply. Young Adult novels have come a long way since my treasured Ann M. Martin’s Baby-sitters Club days. Throughout the touching story, I found myself torn between two worlds: the young one and the adult one. That, to me, is an indication of great character development on the part of John Green. Although I’m not a mother yet, I look forward to the day I can read to/with my child and see books through a new and uniquely “Ma” lens. Oh, and PLEASE let my son or daughter be obsessed with Baby-sitters Club.

    • I was also surprised that a YA novel could move me in that way! And, I have to say, I can’t imagine how teenage girls cope with their feelings after reading that. I don’t remember the Babysitters Club or Sweet Valley High being so intense!

  • I’ll have to read Please Don’t Eat the Daisies. I’ve seen the movie, never even thought of the book – sounds like a really fun read. It will be interesting looking back at a 50’s mom and ‘housewife’. I was born in 1958 so I had a true 50’s mom – she had us 5 kids and divorced in 1971 – the same time I was going from David Cassidy straight to Neil Young! Big Changes for all of us – what a era it was!

    • That’s fascinating! Can’t wait to hear your take on the book. And what a jump from Cassidy to Neil Young…with nothing in between?! The book was actually recommended to me by my mom, who was born in 1947 and is especially nostalgic for the 1950s. I just see it all secondhand via Mad Men…haha. But I do think the book holds up well.


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