Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs… for now.
Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.
Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.
I adored this book. I read it in a two hour sitting, laughed a lot, teared up a little (I KNOW. ME.), and found myself completely enthralled by the romance that was Hazel and Augusten’s.
But here’s the the thing: After it was all said and done and I sat back and really thought on it, I have so many problems with The Fault In Our Stars, both technical and stylistic, and they only became more glaring when I went back and reread. So I’m awarding it one of my rarely used half stars, because I can’t call this novel great but loved it too much to place it in mediocre standing.
I could listen to John Green talk for days. The videos he posts on his YouTube channel with his brother are the optimal blend of humour, intelligence, and that almost heartachey-wonder that makes you feel so small in the world but so important to it. As an online presence in the YA community, he is without doubt unmatched. But while I love John’s penchant for grandiose statements, I don’t necessarily need to see the same trait in all of his characters. I understand that he wants to write books about smart people—as a self-proclaimed smart person, I’m actually really okay with that—but even the most intelligent among us are human, and that means, in our day-to-day lives, we rarely make perfectly-formed, unrehearsed speeches about the inevitability of fate and the universe.
I know this flaw has been pointed out in many of Green’s books as “Dawson’s Creek” dialogue, and while I was aware of it before, it was never so obvious to me as with Stars. I think the effect may have been exacerbated by the fact that in some passages it became clear he was trying to bring the realism with the (over)inclusion of words such as “like” or “um” and chopped up sentence structures. Unfortunately, it did end up reading in many places like a thirty-something man trying to emulate teenage speech, and while I commend him for trying to fix what he seems to be freely acknowledging as an issue with his work, I still think he’s got a ways to go.
However, however, however. For the very reason that his dialogue didn’t work for me, Hazel Grace Lancaster as the protagonist did. Before this book’s release there was much buzz of the “OMG JOHN GREEN IS A MAN WRITING A BOOK ABOUT A GIRL” nature, and honestly, I was among those who had their doubts about his ability to pull it off. Not because I was worried he wouldn’t be able to find a voice, but because as much as I’ve loved his previous female characters, he’s a big fan of the manic pixie dream girl. But aside from a few awkward, obvious insertions—V for Vendetta is (apparently?) a boy movie, Forever 21 dresses, and an America’s Next Top Model addiction that didn’t fit the character—I empathized with, understood, and lived in Hazel’s thoughts. Green didn’t bother to worry about writing her like a girl; he wrote her as a human being, and so it was nothing for males and females alike to relate to her. I’m almost in awe of the ease with which he executed this, and it’s more than enough of a reason to read this book.
It becomes obvious early on that much of the story will center around Hazel’s favourite (fictional) book, “An Imperial Affliction” by Peter Van Houten, and the common complaint about this seems to be that it’s narcissistic of Green to focus on and celebrate a work he himself created. I’m honestly not sure about that, as it doesn’t seem the quotes and allusions to this fictional literature were handled any less brilliantly than Green’s treatment of Whitman in Paper Towns or Rabelais in Looking for Alaska, but where I do take issue is the use of Van Houten as a vehicle to drive each literary point home. His themes were already being woven through Hazel and Augustus’ journey, and it was seamless; there was no need for the overkill that came in the form of Van Houten’s (sometimes overly pretentious) letters and statements to them. I wish Green had trusted his own story-telling abilities enough to believe we’d get it without having it spelled out.
The Fault In Our Stars is a fantastic read, but it’s something that has to get its emotional hooks into you. If you don’t find yourself connecting with the characters, chances are this book won’t go over well. If you get caught up, however, make sure you have a box of tissues on hand. If I teared up, you’re going to outright bawl.