Monday, February 6, 2012

Book Review: The Fault in our Stars by John Green

The Fault in our Stars
John Green
Published: January 2012
Young Adult Contemporary

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” 

So that's a quote from Hazel, the 16-year-old stricken with cancer in The Fault in our Stars. Dramatic, but I imagine John Green's nerdfighter fanbase feels just as much zeal. It's hard to sum up a book that's inpsiring without becoming a cliche sappy sick-girl tale. Not to say the book won't make you cry, because it will. I dare you not to cry.
Hazel takes a (fictional) drug to maintain her thyroid cancer, but it won't cure it. Her life will expire early, she just doesn't know when. She's been homeschooled for all of high school, and shares a quiet life with her doting parents and a favorite book she obsesses over; it abruptly ends without resolving what happens to the characters. Hazel half-heartedly attends a cancer support group; she finds it necessary to do something but she's frequently frustrated by the jargon: battling cancer like a warrior, living best your best life, etc. Especially when a list of former members are read aloud in rememberance; it's a reminder of how many of them will die.

Now, if this sounds like a downer, let me tell you about Hazel's attitude. She's realistic about her fate, but she's tired of sick kid perks and "special looks." She drives herself to classes at the community college, visits with an old friend at the mall. She isn't asking for sympathy. She's strong in spirit, but what reduced me to tears - and I'm NOT a cryer at books - were the simple descriptions of Hazel toting her little oxygen cart, having to sit down because a walk across the food court gave her shortness of breath, and a hospital visit where she didn't want anyone to see her helpless. She's fighting, but it's humbling to see a character so full of pride be weighed down by a vicious disease.

Just when support group couldn't get more boring, enter: Augustus Waters. He's good looking in a popular jock sort of way, in remission, and has a prosthetic leg. He dangles an unlit cigarette from his mouth as a methaphor for being close to something that kills but choosing not to partake of it, which is precocious but is balanced by a love of a video game-based series of novels. He and Hazel's friendship is adorable, hilarious and leads to a beautiful and very touching love story.

As with all John Green books, the supporting characters round out the story. Augustus' friend who brings him to support group is half blind and the first to make a sight joke. The parent's roles aren't forgotten sidenotes. There are always comments about Green's books portraying overly-pretentious characters who don't talk like normal teenagers (although Hazel is brainy, she also religiously watches America's Next Top Model). I think The Fault in our Stars works with this concept best, because Hazel and Augustus aren't normal. They've been taken out of school and trapped in their small world of suffering. To be faced with your own mortality at such a young age will cause you to either retreat entirely, or move forward and examine that pain and uncertainty. Their journey is full of speculation, wry observation and some genuinely funny moments.

This is John Green's strongest book. It will probably make you cry, but I promise it will make you laugh as well, and hopefully give a better understanding of what it's like for a family to live with cancer. Is it possible to have a favorite book of the year and it's only February?


  1. I've heard so many good things about this book, I can't wait to get hold of it.

  2. seriously, tfios is going to be my favorite book this year, no contest.

  3. It sounds amazing. I generally don't read books that I know are going to make me cry, but this one sounds like it's worth it. I'll just have to sandwich it in between two fluffy reads.

    Thanks for the tip on the King of Kong! I haven't heard of it and look forward to watching it w/ my competitive-Konger-wannabe son.

  4. I just finished reading it too! Amazing! I laughed, cried and jumped up and down.


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