This review has spoilers. Also, I find it impossible to read a piece of YA literature and NOT compare it to, and stab metaphorical knives into, other novels I don’t like…particularly Twilight. You have been warned.
The Fault in Our Stars is the latest novel from New York Times Bestselling, Printz Award Winning, Edgar Award Winning, Brilliantly Inspiring, Lovely to the Core, Young Adult Author, John Green. In addition to being an author, John Green makes up one half of one of the most influential YouTube channels of all time, vlogbrothers. I wrote about the release of TFiOS a few months ago, in this post.
I finished the novel in five hours, but it was a good five hours!
The novel grapples with two of the most inescapable facets of the human condition: death and belonging (though this is not to say that everyone belongs, for not belonging is an essential component of the experience of belonging).
In seeing the world through the eyes of a 16 year old cancer patient, I was forced to contemplate things I had never really had cause to give much thought: given that I have been lucky in health for all my nearly twenty years of life, I have never really been forced to contemplate my own death.
Given that I’m one of those annoying people who spend a whole lot of time thinking and analysing and planning, and very little time doing, you’d think that novels that contemplate important things would be emotional mindfields for me. They are, but I’m good at distancing myself from the emotion of a novel, while still immersing myself in the world, and appreciating the story and the characters.*
I believe that a good novel makes you fall in love with the characters and the world while you’re reading it, but just enough so that as soon as you turn the last page, you can see the characters and the story for what they really are: fiction. Yes, most stories have real-life resonances, and so too do facets of the characters about whom we read, but they’re never wholly real. Even if something purports to be a true story, it is always, at least a little bit, fictitious.
TFiOS lived up to my expectations. Hazel and Augustus were both objectively charming, honest, witty characters, as I had anticipated from the snippets of TFiOS which John Green had provided. The writing was decent, as John’s always is, and appropriate for the form and voice of the novel (it is narrated by a 16 year old who, though not unintelligent, speaks with the distinct voice of an American teenager).
While I was reading TFiOS, I liked Hazel. I suppose it’s difficult to dislike a character when you’re seeing the world through their eyes, because you ARE them, for the time that you’re reading. During the novel, there was only one time I didn’t like Hazel. It was when I realised that she was ignoring all the signs that Augustus was sick.
When a novel is in the first person, and the PROTAGONIST, through whose eyes you’re seeing the world, mentions things that are important to the novel and to the reader, but that aren’t important to the protagonist, there are only two explanations:
1. The protagonist is a selfish cow, because they notice the signs, but they just don’t care.
2. The author is struggling between the need to inform the reader, and the need to faithfully convey only the observations and thoughts of the protagonist.
3. First person novels are stupid
I really liked Augustus. Not in the way I liked Edward Cullen when I was fifteen and obsessed with Twilight… goodness, no. I liked Augustus as a character. Every other thing he said made me smile. He was self-assured, and a little bit cocky, and intelligent, charming and witty, but not overly so. There is definitely something to be said for a character who is well-defined, through their dialogue and their actions, rather than through endless, gushy description and fawning by the protagonist, which makes you want to punch two fictional characters in the face *COUGH Twilight COUGH*
I fairly well predicted the basic plot of the novel before I read it. I guessed that Hazel and Augustus would fall in love, and that Augustus would die. I suppose that, given a few months to contemplate the ways that a book about two teenaged cancer patients could end, you narrow down the options for plotlines fairly quickly, and particularly accurately, if you’ve read every other book by the same author.
That said, I did not predict, even for a moment, the Peter-van-Houten-had-a-daughter-who-died twist right at the end. That bit was pretty good.
The sex-scene was done well, too. As is John Green’s style, it was tasteful, but not Tess of the D’Urbervilles-esque, wherein you need to wait until another third of the way through the book when she gets pregnant, to realise that the bit about the strawberries and the leaves and the seedy man was supposed to be erotic…or assault…or something. Hazel and Augustus’s was barely there, but when it was done, you knew it was done, thanks to a handy Venn Diagram.
The Venn Diagram was brilliant. But then, John Green’s Venn Diagrams always are.**
Many have said that the laugh:cry ratio is 1:1. For me, it was more 2:1. I didn’t cry much (does that make me a cold-hearted b!tch?)***
* In a way that I very much wasn’t, when I was fifteen (or so) and read Twilight.
** “The Venn Diagram of guys who don’t like smart girls, and guys you don’t want to date…IS A CIRCLE” – John Green
*** I don’t really want you to answer that…