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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Review: THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green

TITLE: The Fault In Our Stars  AUTHOR: John Green
PUB: Dutton                                    PUB DATE: 1/10/12
FORMAT: HC, 313 pgs                SOURCE: won

Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now.
Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.
Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

THREE WORDS: I’m Beautifully Destroyed……thank you very much, John Green ;_;

MY REVIEW: The Fault In Our Stars has been out for a few months now and I’m a little late to the game, but better late than never, right?! This is a book that has and will evoke very intense emotions and thoughts, both positive and negative. I’ve read many reviews ranging from DNF to 5++++ stars, pre-reading and post-reading, and I’ve seen some very compelling arguments for the negative and the positive. I am in the latter category having loved this book and have a lot to say as to why. In fact, I find I have a lot to say about the book in general and the passion/anger/sadness/etc it has produced in readers. So, with that being said, I have no idea how long or short this review will be (turns out it’s very long), how analytical or explicative I may get (spoiler alert: very), or if it will be remotely helpful (probably not *shrugs*). I always aim to write helpful reviews, to help readers determine whether a book is worth the read, but in the case of this book I think I must be selfish and write this review first for me, simply so that I can get all my thoughts down.

If you really just want the gist of my thoughts and really do not want to read the whole thing (and good Lord, I don’t blame you), then here you go, the important things: The Fault In Our Stars is a superbly written novel that will make you cry, make you laugh and hopefully leave you thoughtful, but never really leave you. With compelling characters, an addictive romance and an unforgettable voice, John Green has created a story that is as touching as it is electric, funny as it is thought-provoking and completely captivating. A must read. 5 Cupcakes…there you go, the important highlights of my review. Now, if you actually want to stick around for the rest of my ramblings (YAY! you if ya do) then please proceed……

I’m not going to spend too much time on a book summary; I think the blurb above does a great job of that. And besides, how does one really sum up this book without including spoilers? This is a book about a sixteen year old girl, Hazel, who is dying of cancer. She meets Augustus, a cancer survivor. They fall in love. People die. Heartache and grief ensue. Snarky humor and introspective honesty is used to deal with this heartache, grief and pain. Oh, and a heck of a lot of stuff happens between page one and page 313…okay, so apparently that’s how one summarizes this book without being spoilery.

This is a cancer book that isn’t a cancer book, because like Hazel says “…cancer books suck” (pg 48). And perhaps they do. There is no shortage of YA “cancer books”, all approaching the topic in their own ways (some with humor, some with lighthearted fluff, some full of sarcasm, some full of uplifting joy), none right or wrong. So does John Green really bring anything new to table with his non-cancer cancer book? For me (and really, I can only answer this question for myself), yes, yes he does. The newness does not necessarily come from his use of acerbic wit or his very intelligent, snarky and mature teenage characters or his rollercoaster storyline. No, the newness (again for me) comes from the way this humor, these characters, this story moved me, touched me, captured me in ways that no other book like it ever has. Will all readers experience the same emotions, affects, thoughts as me? Of course not. But readers will feel something. This book will evoke strong, thought-provoking emotions and thoughts. Good or bad, positive or negative, these emotions will be powerful enough that, based on the many varying reviews I’ve read, readers will want and need to talk about them. And isn’t that in itself an impressive and original feat?

This isn’t always an easy story to read. Enjoyable and entertaining, yes. But not always easy. There’s a relentlessness to it that can be hard to take (at times unbearable) and at times I had to close the book and walk away for a while. Such is life. One of the things that often pops up in reviews of this book is the idea that perhaps John Green has no right to write a cancer book, especially one that laughs at the general idea of cancer books, simply because he has not personally experienced what he writes about. Now, I’m not here to discuss who has the right to write about what because that’s a topic that needs its own place and time for discussion. But, I do get this criticism and concern and I’ll admit that this line of thinking crossed my mind several times while reading the book. But then I remembered the author’s note Green includes in the beginning of the book, one that says “This book is a work of fiction. I made it up” (Author’s Note). This story isn’t real, the characters aren’t real, no matter how real it all may seem (and we want it to feel real, don’t we?), but that doesn’t mean what this book makes us feel isn’t any less real. I really had to place myself in this mindset before the book simply became Too Much and before I could truly enjoy it for what it is and not for what I thought it should be.

And what is, is a story that is eloquent in its devastation, poignant in its humor and unforgiving in its honesty. This is a book that unabashedly asks a lot of its readers. It asks them first and foremost to remember that it is a work of fiction, second it ask them to remain open to all the possible emotions and thoughts it may evoke and to use them as needed, and thirdly, it asks them to take the characters for who they are and not who you want them to be, need them to be or think they should be.

Green has created very complex and layered characters. Hazel and Augustus are both highly intelligent, sarcastic and snarky to the bone and unflinchingly honest. But where Augustus’ personality and charm (he has a ton) is larger than life big and loud, Hazel’s personality is full of quiet subtlety and unassuming boldness. Are they always easy to love? No, but therein lays their realism. I didn’t always like Augustus’ arrogance or Hazel’s judgmental tendencies, but I love the fact that Green makes it okay for me to not always like these characters. Green doesn’t use their cancer has a way to constantly draw on the sympathies of his readers. These are imperfect, flawed, often frustrating characters and I wouldn’t want them any other way. Hazel and Augustus’ friendship and romance is wonderfully written. This is a relationship that unfolds naturally and without pretense.

The teenage characters in this book often talk a bit verbosely, with big, intelligent vocabularies and insightful soliloquies…think Dawson’s Creek.  Some readers may find this unrealistic and inappropriate. I find it pretty darn awesome. Why shouldn’t teenagers talk and think in this way? Especially teenagers who are literally faced with and contemplating life’s biggest and scariest questions.  

With books that deal with heavy stuff, like cancer, readers often associate them with life lessons. The characters in TFIOS often make fun of this very notion (and in very laugh out loud ways, I might add), which is something in itself that I’ve noticed sparks a lot of emotion in readers (again, good and bad). Personally, I didn’t mind this dark humor and honesty. But it does lead to the question- What does this book teach us? My answer: nothing or maybe everything. Honestly, I don’t know. I’ll admit that I’m usually the type of person that will analyze a book to death to find the “point”, no matter how presumptuous that may make me. And I’m not the only one; I’ve noticed that many other people wonder the same thing about this particular book- What does it mean? What purpose does it have? What glorious life lessons am I supposed to walk away with? Again, I can only speak for myself. The only lesson I walked away with is that there are no lessons. There is no glorious truth or lesson to learn from watching a teenager waste away painfully from cancer. There are no uplifting encouragements that will truly offer comfort to those left behind. And questions don’t always need answers.

And questions abound in this book. Big, life altering questions. Small seemingly insignificant questions. Questions about beginnings, about endings, about long afters. I love questions, but I crave answers, so I was surprised to find that I didn’t mind the lack of answers. In fact, I think answers would ruin the story for me. There’s something utterly terrifying, but completely captivating about a question that you know will never truly be answered. And in the end, for me, this book isn’t about the answers; it’s about how the questions change and affect the characters.

 MY FINAL THOUGHTS: The Fault In Our Stars is a book that leaves a mark, whether that mark comes in the form of a breathtaking ache of a beautiful heartbreak or the blow of a sucker punch in the gut or the sting of a slap in the face, will depend on the reader. This reader has been marked by all three. Funny, Touching, Surprising, Powerful…I could go on with the adjectives, but I won’t. I’ll simply say that for me this YA at its best and an absolute MUST read!
5/5 Cupcakes

Now, because as long as this "review" is, I don't really feel like I've adequately reviewed it or done it justice, I'm going to leave you with a few of my favorite quotes from the book. And this book is has a plethora of awesome quotes...

- I didn't tell him that the diagnosis came three months after I got my first period. Like: Congratulations! You're a woman. Now die. pg. 24

-As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once. pg. 125

-I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. pg. 223

-You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful. pg. 260

-"Oh, I wouldn't mind, Hazel Grace. It would be a privilege to have my heart broken by you." pg. 176

Find the author: Website / Goodreads / Twitter 
John Green is the New York Times bestselling author of Looking for Alaska,An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns. He is also the coauthor, with David Levithan, of Will Grayson, Will Grayson. He was 2006 recipient of the Michael L. Printz Award, a 2009 Edgar Award winner, and has twice been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Green’s books have been published in more than a dozen languages. In 2007, Green and his brother Hank ceased textual communication and began to talk primarily through videoblogs posted to youtube. The videos spawned a community of people called nerdfighters who fight for intellectualism and to decrease the overall worldwide level of suck. (Decreasing suck takes many forms: Nerdfighters have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight poverty in the developing world; they also planted thousands of trees around the world in May of 2010 to celebrate Hank’s 30th birthday.) Although they have long since resumed textual communication, John and Hank continue to upload three videos a week to their youtube channel, vlogbrothers. Their videos have been viewed more than 75 million times, and their channel is one of the most popular in the history of online video. He is also an active (if reluctant) Twitter user with more than 1.1 million followers. Green’s book reviews have appeared in The New York Times Book Reviewand Booklist, a wonderful book review journal where he worked as a publishing assistant and production editor while writing Looking for Alaska. Green grew up in Orlando, Florida before attending Indian Springs School and then Kenyon College.


Unknown said...

And I'm one of those who still haven't read this perfect book, aaa. Everyone is praising it all the time, I MUST get a copy soon. :D Great review!
(and that may be the most perfect book trailer I ever saw, wow).

Aleksandra @ Divine Secrets of a Little Bookworm

Jackie M. said...

Wow, great review! I also haven't read this one yet, but it sounds amazing. And I love your point that sometimes there are no answers...especially when it comes to cancer. I SO need to get to this one!

Kari Po-Ku ▲ said...

I haven't read this, yet. I will buy a copy of this book as soon as I can. Great review! :))

Sara @ Forever 17 Books said...

Great review! This book will probably be one of my favorite reads for 2012 and of all time. It was so beautiful and heartbreaking. I fell totally in love. And so many great great quotes in this one! :)

Anonymous said...

I was lucky enough to snag a signed copy of this at an independent bookstore near me, but I've been waiting until summer when I can read it and cry really hard alone in my house.