Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars. by John Green. January 10, 2012. Dutton Juvenile. 313 pages. ISBN: 9780525478812

There are two authors whose books I regularly buy. One of them is Sarah Dessen, whose books I've been collecting since the publication of Someone Like You in 1998, and the other is John Green. My rule for these authors is that, even if the subject matter of one of their books is something I wouldn't ordinarily read, I must buy and read that title anyway. And that is how I, the girl who announced to her seventh-grade English teacher that she would never read a book in which someone was sick, dying, or dead, came to own and finish reading The Fault In Our Stars.

TFIOS, as the Nerdfighter community has affectionately nicknamed this book, is a love story between cancer survivors Hazel and Augustus. Hazel's cancer is being managed by a drug that has bought her some more time than doctors initially expected, while Augustus has lost his leg to osteosarcoma. The two meet in a support group, and are drawn together by their fascination with a novel by fictitious author Peter Van Houten, which has at its protagonist a young girl dying of cancer, and the abrupt ending of which invites many questions that Hazel and Gus both want answered. The book very realistically portrays the daily challenges and triumphs of kids living with cancer and manages to humanize a very difficult experience in a way that is very warm and relatable, but not cheesy or patronizing.

It's very hard for me to think critically about books that make me cry. I generally don't enjoy being sad, so sometimes that can be a strike against a book. But I'm also always impressed by the way an author can move me to tears, which sometimes makes me unduly biased in the book's favor. In this case, I don't feel as though I particularly enjoyed TFIOS. I was stuck for several days at the halfway point, afraid to read any further, and then I finally finished the book out of a sense of obligation, rather than out of a desire to know how it ends. I knew that, whatever the outcome, I'd wind up in tears, and found myself dreading that experience.

That said, though, I can make a few comments. One is that this book deviates quite a bit from John Green's other books, both in style and substance, and in the fact that his narrator is a girl for the first time. I still heard his distinct tone and voice throughout the text, but also occasionally got buried in what I found to be somewhat pretentious language. I kept thinking of how everyone used to criticize the characters on Dawson's Creek for speaking so eloquently all the time. I  buy that intelligent teenagers have the vocabulary to understand these passages, but I don't think teens truly speak as they do in this book.

What I will say, though, is that this book never becomes maudlin, even at its saddest moments, and the writing never falls into that weepy Lurlene McDaniel style I despise. The characters are fully developed, both as cancer patients, and as people, and their lives, personalities, fears, and quirks jumped right off the page. Particularly lovely is the arc of Hazel's story, and the wonderful portrayal of her family, and her relationship to her parents. A lot happens beneath the surface of this book, and there is lots to analyze and critique, for readers who can put themselves through the emotion of a second reading.

All in all, this book is a great tearjerker for readers who like to cry, but it's also much more than that. This is a book for the thoughtful teenage reader who is prepared to grapple with some heavy issues and carry the story around with him/her for a good long time after the last page.

I still prefer Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and I feel like I could use a Tiny Cooper-sized hug right about now, but as I tweeted upon finishing the book, John Green really has something to be proud of in this novel, and I truly can't wait to see what other stories he will tell us in his books as the years go by.

Visit Goodreads shelves for my reviews of some of John Green's other books: Let it Snow, Will Grayson, Will Grayson, and Looking for Alaska.


I purchased The Fault in Our Stars from Barnes and Noble's website. 

For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat

1 comment :

  1. Great review, and I think your mention of the pretentious language is a good one. Although I tend to like unnaturally intelligent/witty characters (I love Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary by Pamela Dean), I think this could be a road block for some readers.

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