While everyone in the YA world was falling in love with The Fault in Our Stars (2012), John Green’s fourth novel, I was busy trying to finish coursework. Now I’m busy reading material for my comprehensive exams, but sometimes I have to take a bit of a break from the reading-for-work and do a bit of reading-for-fun. Luckily, at times the two things are one-and-the-same.
So The Fault in Our Stars was one off my picks for semester-break reading that isn’t directly tied to my exam lists. Green’s novel is narrated by 16 year-old Hazel Grace, who has had stage 4 cancer for the past 3 years of her life. At support group, she meets the beautiful but enigmatic Augustus Waters, who is in remission but lost his right leg to osteosarcoma. Despite the praise that the novel garnered, I expected something sappy, something not quite tasteful. I expected sadness and an reliance on the characters’ illnesses. But I’d never read anything by John Green before-and if this is how he writes, I’ll be reading more of it.
Hazel Grace, Augustus, and the glimpses we get of the other members of the support group aren’t defined by their illnesses, and indeed show increasing frustration at the world’s attempt to do define them so. In one of the most moving moments from the book, Isaac, Augstus’s best friend, is about to lose his remaining eye (the other removed pre-book’s beginning)-and thus his sight-because of cancer. His girlfriend breaks up with him pre-operation, and Augustus and Hazel Grace watch while he destroys a roomful of things. It’s this moment of angst, fear, and satisfying action that rings so very true.
And let’s talk about that cigarette. Augusts walks about with a cigarette between his teeth, never lighting it. For him, it’s a metaphor for rendering cancer powerless. But it also works on the level of knowing all too well that their lives can-will be-snuffed out far sooner than they should be: that they won’t really have the proper time to burn.
One of the most amusing gripes that I’ve seen about this book is that the kids don’t talk like teenagers. That presupposes so many things, not the least of which is that teens are one homogeneous group that can be expected to act certain ways. My one real gripe is actually the part of the plot that deals with An Imperial Affliction, a novel that Hazel Grace is fascinated with and that she passes along to Augustus. The structure of the book-within-a-book doesn’t quite work for me because Green renders the fictional Van Houten’s prose so poorly and spends so very much of the book talking about the book-within-a-book: that, to me, is where the language breaks down.
I give The Fault in Our Stars about 3.5 out of 5. And now, to leave you with one of my favorite moments from the novel: