Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers galore. Do not read this review if you haven’t read the book. And don’t see the movie before you’ve read it, either! That’s right, I read your mind.
The Fault In Our Stars is a book I had mixed feelings about from the moment I read it. On the one hand, it is a cancer book, but on the other, it’s a love story. It’s a book with a teenage girl as a narrator, something that, needless to say, is not uncommon in this day and age, but a teenage girl with an unquestionably unique voice and personality. The story is laced with issues (particularly the end, as is typical of John Green), but is somehow compelling all the same. What is it with this book? More importantly, what is it with John Green?
I can successfully say that I have read every single one of John Green’s books, at least the ones that most people seem to have heard of, and find myself scratching my head every time. They are books that draw large audiences among the youth of this generation, and are generally marketed as such. It isn’t any sort of coincidence that the movie was set for release in June, when most young people are out of school. John Green’s books are for teenagers, or at the very least their loudest fans are definitely teenagers. But despite this, they are more than teenage novels – at least I think they are.
Take The Fault In Our Stars, for example. It doesn’t take a degree in English Literature to know good writing when you see it, and if you don’t think some of the passages in The Fault In Our Stars are well written, I would greatly beg to differ. Here are a few examples.
My response is being written with ink and paper in the glorious tradition of our ancestors and then transcribed by Ms. Vliegenthart into a series of 1s and 0s to travel through the insipid web which has lately ensnared our species, so I apologize for any errors or omissions which may result.
His every syllable flirted.
Much of my life had been devoted to trying not to cry in front of people who loved me, so I knew what Augustus was doing. You clench your teeth. You look up. You tell yourself that if they see you cry, it will hurt them, and you will be nothing but a Sadness in their lives, and you must not become a mere sadness, so you will not cry, and you say all of this to yourself while looking up at the ceiling, and then you swallow even though your throat does not want to close and you look at the person who loves you and smile.
And, my personal favorite, which technically even isn’t the part of the book:
This is not so much an author’s note as an author’s reminder of what was printed in small type a few pages ago: This book is a work of fiction. I made it up.
Neither novels or their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species.
I appreciate your cooperation in this matter.
In this sense, John Green has a very similar issue with that of Laini Taylor, whose book I criticized for being better written than it was an actual story. And by “written,” I mean that quite literally. The construction of sentences. The way words are put together. John Green is very good at that.
I’m not so sure how good at putting together a story John Green is, because every single time I’ve read one of his books, I have always preferred the characters over the story those characters are put in. The Fault In Our Stars is the same way. Hazel and Augustus are two very distinct people with two very distinct personalities, but their story, while it is meaningful, does not leave many impressions on you beyond the climactic plot points, like their first meeting or Augustus’s death. What I mostly remembered about this book after I read it was Hazel’s voice, not what happened to Hazel. I actually had to skim through it again just to remind myself what took place before writing this review.
Is that necessarily a bad thing? I don’t know. It’s not like the story was bad, far from it; it’s just that, by the end, which was much too abrupt, as most of his endings are, I felt that it hadn’t impacted me as much as it should have. Plot-wise, it didn’t take a lot of risks, and John Green was dropping hints from the beginning that Augustus was going to die, which most readers would probably have guessed anyway. I sure did. It’s incredibly difficult to kill off a first-person narrator. I’ve only read one book that even tried, and it was so unmemorable apart from its attempt that I don’t even remember what the title is.
I don’t read so-called “cancer books” that much; the only other one I’ve sat all the way through is My Sister’s Keeper, and goodness knows there were a slew of problems with that one. Even with that said, I think The Fault In Our Stars tries to be more than a cancer book and succeeds to a point – then it just stops. I’ve heard arguments from critics of the book that Augustus Waters loses all his charisma after he reveals he’s dying, and I’ve heard supporters of the book argue that was intentional, because that’s exactly what happens to people in real life. And while I agree with both opinions, I think it’s really the book that sputters and dies after that point. But is that a bad thing?
Another criticism I’ve heard is one I’ve often raged about: that The Fault In Our Stars is a gold mine for false profundity. But I’m not sure I agree. Here’s why. I’ve become practically allergic to statements of false profundity. If I come across one, I feel it. In my gut. But that didn’t happen this time around. Maybe that’s not a very trustworthy test, but at the same time I feel that The Fault In Our Stars is very genuine. I do.
There’s just a place I feel the story could have gone that it didn’t go, and although I’m not exactly sure what that place is, I can’t shake that impression all the same. Cancer is a very serious subject, and this book didn’t leave nearly as much of an emotional impact on me as it should have. I suppose it was just too predictable.
So, in conclusion after that incredibly scatterbrained review, is The Fault In Our Stars good? After much deliberation – yes. I think it is. Is it a great book? Of that I’m not so sure. But to call it another “teenage novel” or “cancer book,” I feel, is not right. It is more than both those things. But it is less than it could have been.
P.S. – Seeing the movie later today. Expect a review soon.