Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green
Genre: YA, contemporary, fiction, romance
Publisher: Dutton (2012)
Rating: 6/6 – This book is incredible
Synopsis from cover: Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
My Initial Thoughts/Rambling: While reading the first half of the book, I had plans of writing a really witty review, incorporating as many quotes from the book as I could. But then I found the second half to be so beautiful that I couldn’t cheapen this review with cheesy references. I’ll restrain myself to just one, and say: John Green, it was a pleasure to have my heart broken by you.
What did I think about the characters? I’ve read a lot of reviews about this book saying that the characters don’t talk like normal teenagers, and I want to say that that’s entirely true. But these kids aren’t normal teenagers. If you’re as sick as they are, there aren’t many options for activities. Reading was something both Augustus and Hazel turned to, and never found a better way to expand your vocabulary and perspectives. So, I don’t think it’s unbelievable that they would be a bit more advanced, linguistically speaking (even if they do use a few words wrong in their pursuit of mental acuity).
And the concept and plot? The concept is nothing new. You can buy books about kids with cancer all over the place. But this one stands out because it’s not the “strong kid fights until the end with an indomitable spirit,” but rather a very honest, brutal look at the frailty of life and facing death.
And the plot was perfectly paced, a perfect balance of all the themes and devices. The romance wasn’t too sappy, the metaphorical/existential monologues were thought-provoking and character-revealing, and it all took off the blinders of what a cancer patient is expected to act like. I have the Barnes and Noble exclusive collector’s edition, and there’s an interview in the back with Green. He states:
“I didn’t want to sentimentalize or romanticize anything in the book. And one of the most common ways that we sentimentalize death and dying is by talking about the dead or dying person’s “beautiful soul,” or just generally by talking about the soul and its imperishability and resilience and so on. . . . I was so tired of the idea that suffering is heroic, and that cancer suffering in particular strengthens you and makes you better.”
Well, sir, you have succeeded. Most people want to be courageous and brave in the face of death, to be that person some people look up to for inspiration because they can’t be crushed, but often that isn’t the truth or the way it turns out. And there is a bit of that, inherently, because their struggles are at a higher level than others’. But, the reality is this: we’re not always brave. We’re not always strong. Sometimes we are weak, and fragile, and just need a shoulder to cry on. Green finds this balance between strength and weakness, and it was one of the strongest points of the book.
What about the writing style? The first thing I noticed was the writing style: I could smell the tumblr on it. It just has that wry, slightly caustic, off-beat sense of humor that seems to be the predominant form of communication on that site. So, being an avid tumblrite (am I a part of new species?), I latched onto it quickly. Everything was the right blend of stupid teenage fun and serious pondering on what happens after death and wanting to leave a heroic legacy behind. Green draws you in and makes you feel so much in such a short time, you can’t even tell you’re sucked in until you find yourself hanging on to every word. And, I lied, I’m going to borrow one more line: I fell in love with this book the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once.
There’s one other thing I wanted to point out: at one point in the book, Hazel recites William Carlos Williams’ poem “The Red Wheelbarrow” to Augustus. Now this was the part that absolutely broke me, because I studied it with my students last year (and I will again this year – now I’ll have to make sure I don’t cry when we read it), and I know the background behind it. Care to know? Well I’m going to share anyway so everyone can understand why it felt like a dagger had been plunged into my heart. Williams was a pediatrician, and its rumored that he wrote this poem by the bedside of a dying patient. You can read the second paragraph from the article here for yourself, if you like. Oh, the feels. In the interview, Green says he thought it was “a really good poem about the pleasure and importance of observing the universe,” but I’m not so sure he’s unaware of the history of this poem. I mean, it can’t be a coincidence, can it? Of all the poems in the world, he picks that one? I might have to send him an ask on tumblr and investigate. Actually, that’s what I just did. Hopefully he’ll respond!
Anything else you’d like to add? Oh yeah, and I bawled like a baby for the majority of the second half of the book. Not kidding. It was like a faucet someone had left turned on for 90% of the last hundred pages. There were several times where the words blurred because I was so choked up. It’s heartbreaking and bittersweet and hopeful and full of life, all at the same time. If I could only say one thing to you, it would be this: don’t put off this book like I did. It’s worth the tears.
But I do recommend reading it when you’re all alone, and make sure you’ve got a box of tissues next to you.
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