Saturday, October 12, 2013

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Edit October 13, 2013: In retrospect, I'm really not sure why that book and I have the relationship that we do. That is to say, I know what pissed me off then, and I'm not about to dismiss my younger self's opinion because, to my younger self, it was justified.

But really, who cares anymore?

It was the best review I could have written in 2012. Now, nearly two years later, maybe I could do a better one. But until I get around to it, here it is in all of its former glory.

Goodreads review, last updated April 16, 2012

The first time I heard about The Fault In Our Stars was in a vlog by John Green, and my thoughts ran along the lines of: "Oh, new book. Nice. Might check it out of the library." And that's that. It wasn't until the early shipping fiasco and the subsequent blog posts that I really considered seeking the book out to see if it was worth all the hype it got .

Look, I like John Green alright, he has his own thing going on. And I admire him for creating a sense of community among nerds everywhere - it's not an easy feat, and it's nice to be made to feel great about who you are and what you do. But something bothered me about that vlog and the subsequent reactions of people to it. I didn't know what it was until last night... and I'll get to that in a minute.

Anyways, The Fault in Our Stars tells the story of Hazel, who, after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer at 12, was ready to die, before a medical miracle saved her... for now. At Cancer Support Group, she meets Augustus, who is in remission after having lost his leg to osteosarcoma fourteen months prior. And while Hazel makes it her policy not to get too close to people for fear of hurting them when she dies, she can't help but to start falling for Augustus. 

Here's what I hand in to John Green: he knows how to write his dialogue. I had plenty of laugh out loud moments. And he's not pulling any punches - he doesn't prettify cancer. He doesn't make his characters out to be some perfect saints, he doesn't make them seem heroic. There's a lot that can be said about grief and grieving and the difference between the face you put on for people and what you really feel. 

That said, I don't feel like I should have sought this book out the way I did. My first thought, when reading the opening chapters, was something along the lines of: "Oh, my God, John Green has written a manic pixie dream boy". The trademark Green novel elements are here: a love interest that is just too perfect, quirky and smart characters, a secondary cast that is barely developed further than their function. Hazel's high school friend Kaitlyn has about three scenes in the book, in which she does nothing but direct our main character to helpful plot points. 

I didn't mind Augustus, although like many other readers have pointed out, he talks like he reads from a script. His pretentiousness, him tailoring his actions based on their metaphorical meaning - those traits of his irritated me to no end. I kept wondering "Who talks like that?" I get it that cancer kids are supposed to be precocious, but there are ways to make this seem plausible and organic and Green completely overlooked them.

But ultimately, what pissed me off was the fact that the book gets so deep, and at the same time says absolutely nothing. Hazel and Augustus talk about death and whether it's better to live fully and leave scars, or to thread lightly and minimize the damage.

I think what this book is about, in the end, is that human lives are governed by chance and coincidence. Peter Van Houten exclaims, at one point, how Shakespearean Gus and Hazel's tragedy is, and indeed, "Romeo and Juliet" would not have been quite so poignant if not for the horrible, horrible timing. My own timing of reading this book was bad - this past week has been very difficult for me and reading two cancer books would have ended up depressing me to no end. In the end, what TFIOS is telling us is that sucky timing exists... and that's that. 

Which brings me back to why I felt so uneasy about the hype surrounding this book. People will argue whether spoilers are good and bad and if Green has any right to ask people not to spoil his book (even if that limits discussion), (even if it sounds suspiciously like telling people how to review his book). I personally think people don't spoil books on purpose, and if someone does post huge spoilers on the Internet, the author telling them not to will not have an impact. Also, not to give anything away, but the only consequence of revealing the plot to this book will only be a lessening of the tear-jerker effect. It's no Liar.

But the reason why this bothered me is that... honestly... it's such a ridiculous thing to make a big deal of. Spoiling a book isn't some earth ending calamity, and there are certainly worse things to worry over. If this is John Green's biggest concern, then he's very lucky, very privileged indeed. 

He deserves his kudos and the respect of his fans. His credibility will not be questioned. He's not very likely to get cyber bullied, not as much as a female author/blogger might, and he certainly won't be discriminated over his race, nationality or sexuality. 

No, the only thing he can apparently crusade about is having a spoiler-free world. Well, bless him, then. I'm sure he's going to have fun with that.

For further analysis of the themes in the story, my Book Lantern post. Warning, spoilers included! Is the Fault Really in Our Stars?

Also, Meghan's follow up post: 
Augustus Waters: Hero or Zero?

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