(Yes, I’m a fast reader! In the last week I’ve finished Beautiful Disaster, On the Island [a few times] and now The Fault in Our Stars. I’m also reading a Sophie Kinsella book, just to relax. They’re like cheap wine-boxes of literature.)
Clearly I’m one of the few who didn’t love The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. I’m basing this off the overwhelmingly positive reviews on Amazon. The problem is, I can’t put my finger on why I didn’t love it — and because I didn’t love it I don’t feel the urge to re-read it. Also, the subject matter is teenagers with terminal cancer, so it’s not even something I want to revisit.
Which is not to say I avoid books about children with terminal cancer, or other such depressing topics. I loved Room by Emma Donoghue which is essentially about a little boy who, along with his mother, lives as a prisoner (and, of course, his mom is a sex prisoner). Also, I really enjoyed Every Last One by Anna Quindlin, which is a slice-of-life story about a family — until the husband and two children are killed by a childhood friend. Cheery! And yet, I found it compelling and well-written.
What I did love about The Fault in Our Stars: I don’t think any other contemporary writer writes like John Green. His writing is so nuanced — and it’s actually so nuanced that I can’t give a specific example of his nuanced-ness except to say that he is very nuanced. Maybe it’s the conversation about the cancer-support group that the leader claims is LITERALLY in the heart of Jesus, and the main characters’ discussion of whether they are LITERALLY (or not) in the heart of Jesus.
He also totally gets teenage thoughts and dialogue. The obnoxious, self-centered — while still being unsure and full of doubt — ruminations and retorts are perfect. Oh, sometimes I miss being a teenager, just for what you can think and say without getting in too much trouble because everyone just chalks it up to being a teenager! (And do not look forward to my children getting older for that very reason. Animal already rolls his eyes at me.)
So, it’s about young people with cancer. Hazel, the protagonist, has terminal cancer that could kill her very quickly, anytime. Augustus Waters, her love interest, has bone cancer that took a leg. There’s also Augustus’ best friend, Isaac who has cancer that takes his vision. And the support-group leader who had ball-cancer (as Hazel refers to it). Other characters include Hazel’s parents and Augustus’ parents, and a very very strange reclusive writer.
I don’t know if this because I’m a mother and/or I’m old, but I related more to Hazel’s mother than any other character. I could literally feel her pain; her only child was dying of cancer. Her father was a fairly one-dimensional crier; Augustus’ parents were rather one-dimensional pithy sentimentalists as well. However, given the sort of hipster trendy vibe I always get when I read John Green stuff, their multi-dimensionalism could have been in the fact that they were one-dimensional. His writing is very meta. (Which is not a concept I can explain except to show some examples. It’s just… meta.)
My biggest issue with this book was Hazel and Augustus’ relationship. Which, as it’s the entire plot of the book, is kind of a problem. I just don’t feel it. Yes, they both have cancer. Yes, he had an ex-girlfriend with cancer. Yes, he’s a little too quirky for most girls (probably). For the record: Hazel is awesome. I want to meet her — and obviously since I’m practically old enough to be her (very young) mom, we would not be friends, but she’s just so awesome. Despite her incredible (also) quirkiness, she really comes across the page in such a way that I felt like I was intruding on really personal moments in her life.
Maybe because Hazel was such an amazing character, everything and everyone else seems a little less sharply defined. I think a book about Hazel without any reference to Augustus would have been excellent.
Three stars out of five.