The Fault in Our Stars
Dutton Books, 2012
Hazel Grace Lancaster, permanently out of breath and depressed as a side effect of dying (and having cancer) but otherwise a sparkling and intelligent girl.
Augustus Waters, or Gus, one-legged, well-rounded, well-read.
Isaac, unlucky in love and health and still is a great friend.
Peter Van Houten, elusive author of a book that seems to read Hazel’s mind
Is it harder or easier to be in love when you’re dying?
Hazel has cancer, but cancer isn’t the sum of her. Sure, the effects of it are the most noticeable things about her appearance–steroids make her cheeks puffy and she carts around an oxygen tank–but her particular lung cancer is stabilized by an experimental drug. Still, she can’t go to school without being exhausted, so she sits around her house watching America’s Next Top Model and reading. Until her parents talk to her about joining a Cancer Support Group. Which is where she meets Augustus Waters. Who becomes her first love.
Much like in Hazel’s self, the cancer and the love story are inextricably linked in The Fault in Our Stars. Things are both harder and easier for Hazel and Augustus because of this. It’s easier for their friends and family to believe the depth of their involvement because they’ve both been through a lot and so have more maturity than some teens. But it’s harder for them both to be involved because they can’t stop thinking about the extenuating circumstances and what they’re doing to their emotions, should one of them die. It’s easier for them to complete a possibly romantic quest because they have cancer, but harder to imagine where they’re going in life generally. And so on.
In other words, this is and is not a cancer book. I was caught off guard with it in an elevator in Dallas with 2 friendly passengers who asked: “What are you reading?”
“It’s a book about a girl with cancer…” I started out. They made scrunchy sad/empathetic faces, and I rushed in to say “But it’s not that kind of cancer book.” Then I asked them what was in their take-home containers to diffuse the tension. (blue corn muffins, if you’re curious)
What I wanted to say is that it wasn’t a cheesy or melodramatic cancer book. It wasn’t a Lurlene McDaniel or Nicholas Sparks book. Or, it was built on that model but transcended it. The only problem is that I’ve only seen A Walk to Remember. Which highlights the fact that if this weren’t a John Green book, I probably wouldn’t be reading it. So, I’d say this book achieves its intention, which is to be a good book, and in particular, a good John Green book. I happen to be a fan of John Green’s, so this is good news to me (and all the Nerdfighters).
What makes a John Green book? It’s like a really good sandwich because it has all the right amounts of textures and flavors: there’s lightness, heaviness, crunchiness, softness, tanginess/saltiness, sweetness, and umami. He’s got flow to his work, so even as he’s setting you up to sob like a little baby, as you will if you read The Fault in Our Stars, you can’t help but read along. It’s the best kind of bamboozling.
I’m not talking about the actual book so much because it’s hard to describe without giving stuff away. I don’t want to focus on the whole disease thing too much. The reason I didn’t care that I was being manipulated to cry by John Green’s narrative is that it felt like feeling things instead of manipulation, and because I love a good love story.
When Hazel and Augustus meet, they are flirty but cautious, but can’t help hanging out with each other (after a great misunderstanding about a cigarette that shows Hazel’s pluck). Their quiet excitement about finding each other is perfectly depicted. The exhilaration of meeting someone who gets you never gets old to read about. The Fault in Our Stars has this in abundance. Here’s two quiet examples:
“Our hands kind of got muddled together in the book handoff, and then he was holding my hand. ‘Cold,’ he said, pressing a finger to my pale wrist.
‘Not cold so much as underoxygenated,’ I said.
‘I love it when you talk medical to me,’ he said. He stood, and pulled me up with him, and did not let go of my hand until we reached the stairs.” (34).
This has the excitement of new hand-holding from someone you just met, and dorky humor that happens when you like someone too much to care.
“I drove Augustus’s car home with Augustus riding shotgun. He played me a couple songs he liked by a band called The Hectic Glow, and they were good songs but because I didn’t know them already, they weren’t as good to me as they were to him. I kept glancing over at his leg, at the place where his leg had been, trying to imagine what the fake leg looked like. I didn’t want to care about it, but I did a little. He probably cared about my oxygen.” (35.)
This is a great passage because it has attraction with all of its attendant over-self-awareness, or attraction tempered by Hazel’s knowledge that she’ll be hearing more of Augustus’s favorite band and get to the point where she will have his level of enthusiasm for them (aka anticipation!). I love that she admits she doesn’t like the music as much as he does – she doesn’t have to pretend to do that kind of stuff.
The Fault in Our Stars also has international travel and becoming aware of the falseness of your most cherished beliefs, getting over that blow, and moving on, and being a good friend to someone in a truly shitty situation (seriously – another thing that I loved was that Hazel came into her own as a friend to Isaac apart from his friendship with Augustus). What else? The cover is great.
You will probably cry if you read this book. If so, I recommend getting this song stuck in your head. It’s one of my favorites from middle school and the lyrics are applicable to this story.
Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick
I haven’t read this yet, but many librarians stand behind it and it’s contemporary realistic fiction about a boy and his brother and his brother’s leukemia, so I’d say it’s a good fit.
That Was Then, This is Now by S.E. Hinton
This is a book that made me sob like a baby when I was a teen. Plotwise, it is a coming of age story, but otherwise has no other similarities to our book being reviewed. I did re-read it recently and couldn’t figure out which part exactly made me cry, but it’s still a good book. Click here for an S.E. Hinton valentine!
Because John Green is so popular, people have Opinions about him and they’re usually extreme. The bad ones go like this: his characters talk like Dawson’s Creek (not like real people) and his girls are unrealistic. I disagree on both counts. Although Hazel’s outburst in support group the first time that Augustus comes is a little over the top, I’d point you to Fiona Apple’s outburst at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards. Furthermore, I’ve heard teens talk like his teens, except with more focus on manga and less on literature. Secondly, his girl characters are as realistic as any of his other characters, which is to say, very realistic.
John Green writes about love a lot, especially first love or right after first love breaks your heart. He describes having hopes about people, hopes that they are the people who will make you a more interesting person. He writes about the anger that happens when these people fail you. I think some people read it just as that: books about boys wanting magically quirky girls to save them, or a book about a diseased and quirky girl hoping a diseased and quirky boy can save her. Now, this could just be the fact that people want different things from their love stories, and there’s something off to them about the way crushes and breakups and love happens in a John Green book. But I refuse to write the characters off as “quirky”.
Take this quote from Hazel:
“My favorite book, by a wide margin, was An Imperial Affliction, but I didn’t like to tell people about it. Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books like An Imperial Affliction, which you can’t tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.” (33).
Yes! Right??? The quote about the book that speaks to you is SPEAKING TO ME. Meta.
Anyway, beside the fact that this quote reads my mind and says what I’m thinking better than I ever could, it demonstrates that Hazel is a girl who has more going on with her than being quirky. If loving a book makes you quirky, god help us. And many of the characters in John Green books know an area of arcane trivia or read books – is that what makes them quirky, or what makes them unrealistic? If you say unrealistic, I’d argue that every book is a fantasy on that level, populated by people the author made up and wishes existed, and he hasn’t created the most egregious fantasy. If you say quirky, then there’s a comment on the A.V. Club review of the book that I think argues this better than I could because it uses source material (note: MPDG is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, which is a trope people like to throw at girl characters):
Lindsay Simms says “yeah, John does like his MPDG, but not in the way that most authors/writers/directors do. I’ve always viewed those girls (Alaska, Margo) as girls that you DON’T want to emulate, as opposed to in, say, Garden State, when Sam is shown with no faults.
To quote John, ‘What a treacherous thing, to believe that a person is more than a person.'”
In short, there will be people who like his books and those who don’t, and that’s okay. I guess I’m just declaring which camp I’m in and why.
I got this book from: the library