The Fault in Our Stars (by John Green)

19 01 2012

In probably the most anticipated book of 2012 – the release date of The Fault in Our Stars was even moved up 5 months  just because nerdfighters were waiting for it so badly – John Green yet again asks some truly universal and existential questions about love, life and the human condition but manages to transcend his typical John Green-ness, by letting in an abundance of genuine emotions and showing a personal and sensitive side to his writing hitherto not revealed in his previous work.

For the first time, Green’s narrator is a female voice, that of 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster, who was diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer when she was 13. Hazel, though she is terminal, is not so much dying of cancer as she is living with cancer ever since the Phalanxifor Cancer Miracle at age 14. Because the mets in her lungs have hardly grown for 18 months Hazel has “a bit of purchased time”, though she does “not yet know the size of the bit” (p. 26-27). Her parents decide that Hazel should use that time to be more social and do more outdoorsy type of activities, but because her “lungs suck at being lungs” and hiking is out of the question, her mom figures that attending a weekly Support Group is the next best thing to having a life as a Normal Teenager. At Support Group she meets Augustus ‘Gus’ Waters – a gorgeously hot 17-year-old who had osteosarcoma, but who’s fine now (besides only having one leg – a side effect of his cancer), and only there to support his friend Isaac, who’s about to go blind – another side effect of cancer.  And although Hazel is at first a bit hesitant about starting something with Augustus, they soon engage in a star-crossed type of romance that takes them from Support Group to hardly ever used swing sets and even Amsterdam in search of the infamous recluse slash author of Hazel’s favorite book (An Imperial Affliction), Peter Van Houten.

Just like in Green’s other novels, the teenage characters in The Fault in Our Stars talk and think with a level of maturity not often observed in ‘real life’ teenagers. They use words like “sobriquet” and “hamartia” with a regularity that other mere mortals use definite and indefinite articles. Augustus, for instance, chooses his “behavior based on their metaphorical resonances” (p. 21), so you know you’re in for intellectual discourse from the get go. They engage in discussions about their fear of oblivion, leaving a mark upon the world, and the metaphorical meaning of characters in a book (p. 190). For some readers this seeming self-importance might be a huge obstacle into liking John Green’s books to the full. But, for the cat, this has never been off-putting. On the contrary, it forces the reader to stay alert and to find their inner awesomeness too.  Intellect is something to cherish, not something to feel bad about.  And despite Green’s own insistence that a book belongs to its readers, it betrays the literary and meta-fictional ambitions of the author, also something to cherish rather than feel bad about. I love it that Green sticks with a couple of his pet peeves here too, such as the importance of names (1) , literary references and inspirations (Gatsby, Holden Caulfield, the Shakespeare quote of the title,…) and really seeing people the way they really are, devoid of their flaws or the fault in their stars.

But, besides engaging in metaphysical conversations about life, love and death, one would forget that, Hazel and Gus are also just interested in your typical teen quirks like America’s Next Top Model or playing videogames. The way they speak, with all their pretentious quirks, is not what wholly defines them. Moreover, what sets this set of teens apart from other Green characters like Q or Colin, is the fact that Hazel and Gus are shown in almost extreme close up.  The female characters in Green’s novel were always drawn from a certain distance. They were always more projections of the ideas (unattainability!) that the male protagonists had about them. Reflections rather than real personas. That is, until the male protagonist came to an insight (e.g. Paper Towns).  In The Fault of Our Stars, however, it seems as if John Green wanted to keep his main characters Hazel and Gus as closely as possible and as a result, they are as real as real can get. This also leads to the fact that maybe for the first time, it feels like Green’s protagonists could be ‘real’ people that you know, that you care for.

Not only is this book highly quotable with funny lines and existential tidbits, what stands out is the utter humaneness of this novel, without it ever being condescending or trite. Yes, you will weep and laugh, because of real emotions that happened to real people. Green treats his characters like more than Cancer Kids. Cancer is not what defines their being entirely. It is interesting to note that Augustus even raises this issue when he talks about his previous girlfriend Caroline Mathers: “I mean aside from us obviously, cancer kids are not statistically more likely to be awesome or compassionate or perseverant or whatever. Caroline was always moody and miserable, but I liked it. […] But I don’t know if that was her or her tumor. […] So here’s this girl missing a fifth of her brain who’s just had a recurrence of the Asshole Tumor, and so she was not, you know, the paragon of stoic cancer-kid heroism. She was … I mean, to be honest, she was a bitch.” (p 173-174)

It’s hardly possible to do a John Green book justice just in one sitting, or with one review (2). There is always more to discover every time you pick up the book.  The Fault in Our Stars is a book that demands to be read and re-read, as a love story, as a novel of ideas, as a pretty awesome book. The cat will close with a confession. Yes, there were tears involved when she read the “Desperately Lonely Swing Set Needs Loving Home” ad. Bawled, I tell you!  John Green says a book belongs to its readers. Readers, I tell you, this is one book you will treasure for a lifetime.

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(1) Gus always calls Hazel ‘Hazel Grace’, while Hazel insists it’s ‘Just Hazel’, so Gus’s dad keeps on calling her ‘Just Hazel’, while Isaac calls her Support Group Hazel. On the other hand, the name Augustus,… not the most common name around, but of course this means ‘noble’ or ‘magnificent’ in Latin, the ideal counterpart for Hazel’s middle name ‘Grace’.

(2) What about the Peter Van Houten plotline and Van Houten’s opinion about characters in a book vs Hazel’s opinion about this vs John Green’s?

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3 responses

22 12 2012
The 12 of 2012! « Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] The Fault in our Stars (John Green)* […]

25 02 2013
In Darkness (by Nick Lake) | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] have landed on the cat’s desk if it hadn’t won the Printz. Many had bet on Code Name Verity or The Fault in Our Stars for a variety of reasons. To be honest, I don’t think that In Darkness has more or less literary […]

29 07 2014
London and books. | Ringo the Cat's Blog

[…] Green (The Fault in Our Stars had its own stand in most of the stores, but also his other books get a prominent […]

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