John Green – The Fault in Our Stars (Book Review)

The Fault In Our Stars cover

John Green – The Fault In Our Stars

Remember those conversations your teenage self had with friends? Some were hilarious, some were profound, and all felt meaningful. In retrospect, you weren’t actually as clever as you all thought you were, but that sensation of significance was the best part of becoming an adult. John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars captures this aspect of teenage friendship perfectly. Hazel Grace Lancaster probably wouldn’t really be as coherently snarky as her narration is, and her friends couldn’t always have such perfectly well-timed comments, but I can believe that everything felt like she describes. Though the writing teeters on the edge of being precious and stylized, this interpretation makes it seem human and believable.

The snarkiness and sense of import are vital, given the depressing nature of this book: Hazel has a fatal cancer, as do most of her young friends. This is a novel that can’t end any way but sadly, unless it’s with a trite moral about suffering bravely or learning to appreciate life no matter what. As an intelligent, bitter girl who has to live with cancer’s reality, Hazel hates those clichés. Her story is refreshingly honest about the way terminal diseases actually feel and how the concern of healthy people just creates distance between them. It’s a sympathetic character portrait that’s probably helped a lot of people to deal with these real-world situations.

Readers react in different ways to the quirky dialog and narration. Some find it distracting and fake, while others love it. I initially found myself somewhere in the middle: Though I liked the way this represented the feeling of growing up, its formula felt so precise that it was hard to appreciate the emotions of the people behind the poised one-liners. It grew on me, though. Hazel’s opinions and personality were really appealing, and it is obvious that Green understands his characters even when Hazel’s youthful perspective misses things. Her parents’ difficulty with her disease is especially heartbreaking. So of course, by the end, these are fully-realized characters going through incredible tragedy.

As much as Hazel detests “cancer books”, Green has written one anyway. It’s sad, meaningful, and celebrates life, but it does this without the obtuse justifications that most people use to come to terms with tragedy. It doesn’t go easy on its characters (one important subplot is about Hazel’s love for a brutally honest novel, and trying to contact the bitter, deluded man who wrote it), but it also provides her with love and growth. The story is kicked off when she meets Augustus Green, a charismatic cancer survivor with whom she can immediately have those profound teen conversations.

As realistic as The Fault in Our Stars often is about life with cancer, it definitely succumbs to formula in other ways. Various characters’ diseases follow the exact paths you would predict, and the love between the main characters is presented as a little too perfect, without acknowledgment that imminent death is its only difference from other young romances. In fact, the entire love story fits the standard chick-flick formula perfectly: Hazel is the clever, quirky girl who doesn’t see anything special in herself at first, and Augustus is the unflinchingly supporting and giving man who provides validation.

Even so, the most memorable aspect of the book is the part that breaks with tradition, and it definitely makes this book worth reading. Powerful, life-affirming, and sad, The Fault in Our Stars manages to fulfill the expectations of a “cancer book” and still be an honest discussion of cancer.

Grade: B

 
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