Sunday, January 13, 2013
Book Review: 'The Fault in Our Stars' by John Green
Stars follows the story of 16-year old Hazel who is living with cancer two years post-miracle (miracle drug is prolonging her life). She spends most of her time at home except to go to school or go to a support group, and one day she meets a boy that turns her life upside down. Stars is at once a story about dealing with cancer and sickness but absolutely about awkward teenage romance, especially the kind that is "first love."
There has been some polarization among readers in regards to The Fault in Our Stars. For one thing, there are many who are of the mind that John Green had no business writing a book about cancer. I will freely admit that throughout the book, I idly wondered what people who are/have been actually ill with cancer or families of those that have would possibly find this book to be a bit irreverent? But maybe not. I'm not in that group of people, and I can't speak for them.
There's another part of me that has problems with grown men writing stories with female teenage protagonists. It's a weird double-standard, I know, considering so much of the Young Adult genre is dominated by grown women writing books in the perspectives of young girls and boys as well, and that doesn't bother me nearly as much.
I think the main problem I had with Hazel as a character was she was too wise beyond her years. I wasn't nearly as witty at her age, and to have her be so knowledgeable and find a soul mate in someone who could banter with her seems incredibly un-possible. Something about having cancer (or any other terminal disease) in someone's body and having an uncertain or short amount of time left to be alive tends to sober things up a bit - give them a completely different view of life. That's not really how I felt about Hazel. She kept it real, and she lived on irony, but I didn't feel like the cancer was an extraordinary factor in her development as a character.
I should mention though, that John Green went through great pains to make sure he added extra disclaimers in prominent places that the story is completely made up and that he took liberties in some areas, like with medications or treatments. It's clear that this work is meant to use cancer as a vehicle for character depth, or perhaps even to just shock or sadden readers, but that's it. That said -- many people describe Stars as a "cancer book." Personally, after reading it and digesting it, I classify it as a book about falling in love.
Hazel and Augustus go through (almost) all the steps of young teenage love, and that's really what spoke to me. The other parts of the story could have been about anything else -- they could have been music hipsters or buddies at juvie or basically bored kids that want a change of landscape in myriad other situations. After much retrospect, I can only describe The Fault in Our Stars as a book about awkward teen romance with tragic circumstances but an overall positive and heartwarming message.
There are also those out there who complain that for dealing with some heavy themes, Stars is not nearly as deep as it should be. To that I say: what 16-year old kids do you know that are as deep as you expect this book to be? I think it's an unfair expectation, though a confusing one considering my earlier point on Hazel seeming to be wise beyond her years. In the end, they are both silly teenagers with silly ideas, like Augustus' obsession with glorious deaths and holding unlit cigarettes in his mouth. It's such a stupid little quirk, isn't it? But everyone's got a stupid quirk. That was Augustus'.
Though my review has seemed very critical, I do actually recommend this book. I enjoyed reading it from beginning to end -- I was hooked. It might not be for everyone, though. Like I mentioned earlier, I have no idea how people living with cancer or any variation thereof would take something like this, and it just generally might not be everyone's cup of tea. If you look at it from my angle - just the love story - then you might actually really enjoy it. Or maybe you'll just like it in general -- anywhere you look, GoodReads, Amazon , etc. you'll notice this book has nearly 5/5 stars. I would call that a success.
Update: It has come to my attention today that the author does actually take some issue with the criticism that teens in YA books seem to be too witty or smart compared with "real teens." While I can't recall ever knowing any 16-year old girls that were quite up to Hazel's general intellect, I do remember girls who were just as much into poetry and such as to be capable of such banter, and I did know two girls who at the age of 17 got to skip senior year and go straight to college.
More than that though, I'd like to acknowledge that I missed an important point in the book -- while I did mention earlier in my review that The Fault in Our Stars is a tragic love story, I didn't make the connection that it followed through in the classic style, including flowery language. This context adds a dimension to the language in the book in general and helps make more sense of it as a whole. I think this was The Big Thing when you consider this story in a modern context juxtaposed with the language used.
My review isn't going to be changed because those are my impressions after all, but I wanted to add this section to the end here to make sure that the context is understood!