the fault in our stars

Well, I finally relented. The Fault in Our Stars is the first and only John Green book I’ve read. I had been very, VERY hesitant to read it for several reasons: foremost was the hype (although that is what initially sparked my curiosity), second was it being YA, and third was the specific subject matter (kids with cancer). The reason I went ahead and finally read it was that I saw an awesome video rant online by John Green defending indie booksellers and publishers, etc. and I loved his passion and what he had to say. My feelings about his book, however… not quite love.

Arguably one of the biggest, most popular books of 2012, John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is told from the perspective of 16-year-old Hazel, a precocious teenager suffering from terminal thyroid cancer which has spread to her lungs. One day in support group, she meets Augustus Waters, a handsome, confident 17-year-old who just happens to have osteosarcoma. The two bond almost instantly, primarily over Hazel’s favorite book, An Imperial Affliction. Love, loss, living life in the now, hope, what you will leave behind, family, and friendship are all major points in The Fault in Our Stars.

I don’t want to give away anything, if there are some who still haven’t read it yet (although I feel a bit like the last person who has!). But yeah, I didn’t love it. I think it’s a decent enough story, but definitely a YA story (starry-eyed teenage love? yeah no thanks). The real rub for me though was that the teenaged characters are wildly unbelievable. Seriously, phrases similar to “pondering the existential quandaries of myriad metaphorical resonances…” (not verbatim, but you get the idea). There may be some teenagers out there who speak like Hazel and Augustus—insufferably ironic and sharp-witted, exuding a semblance of high-level philosophical intellectualism… but the two combined in this book was over-the-top for me. I know it’s fiction and these are fictional characters, but I just didn’t buy it, and I had trouble liking Hazel and Augustus. I can believe Hazel’s rudeness (teenage girl, after all), but both of them were so pretentious and OF COURSE a teenage Adonis—perfect in every way except for his disease, says all the right things almost all of the time, quirky in the most romantic and fantastical ways—finds whimpery and self-defeating Hazel irresistible. Meh. Come on. I found them damn near impossible to stomach.

I tried to remember what it was like being a teenage girl, and I think that (aside from the erudite vocabulary) Green does capture the spirit of an ornery teenager, to whom all adults are annoying, hovering losers, acting like they’re constantly put-upon, etc. I did really like that a novel plays a big part in the story and the kids bonded over it.  I do think it’s good that a book like The Fault in Our Stars exists—there is no need to shield teenagers from real-life tragedy like terminal diseases, and maybe a fictional novel can help get them thinking outside themselves more, putting big life topics in perspective. People their age (and younger) go through hardships like cancer every day. For a teenage love story it’s a great book, and I also appreciate that Green doesn’t dumb down his writing for young adult readers—he obviously does not pander to them.

Full disclosure: I don’t know what it is like to have cancer or any disease, or to support a loved one fighting cancer. I am not a parent. I had a really great, healthy childhood, pretty trouble-free. However through the years I have been to a few funerals for children, and one of my best friends is a cancer survivor—had it as a little kid—and still deals with side affects every day, twenty years later. Just wanted to clarify that while I myself haven’t dealt personally with serious illness and facing death, I am not entirely unfamiliar with the topic and probably started reading The Fault in Our Stars with a huge grain of salt already on hand. I really wanted to like this because everyone else does, and I didn’t give up on it, but it’s clear to me that I’m just not the target audience for YA love stories in general, no matter the context.

Read from June 15 to 16, 2013.