on April 9, 2013
I am not quite finished with the book, but so far, I think it is very well written. It covers a topic that is difficult to talk about and is often avoided. It has been challenging for me to get through; however, I feel like I should add my perspective. I was diagnosed with cancer at 10. I am now 15 years old and a teen-age cancer survivor. I am a volunteer and advocate for pediatric cancer awareness.
This book has gotten negative reviews based on several points:
1) This is from another reviewer: "The characters are not believable. They do not speak like teenagers. They do not even handle situations like teenagers do. So many interactions between Gus and Hazel are interactions which, plain and simple, just would not happen between real, emotional, scared, awkward, virgin teenagers, let alone ones with cancer who have been socially cut off for much of their lives."
*My point-of-view: Have you spent time with any of us? They are believable as teen-age cancer patients/survivors. We may look like teen-agers, but in our heads, we are not. We have had to face our own mortality and make choices we should never have to make. It makes us grow up...quickly. Most of us do not act or speak like teen-agers because that is no longer how we think. After treatment, many of us find the things most teens (and sometimes adults) are worried about are trivial. Society cuts us off, but we are not cut off from each other. These types of interactions do happen. And, it is emotional and scary, but we learn to tell it like it is, without the normal fluff and awkwardness. We find 'normal' where we can and try to live every single day we have because we know that time is an illusion.
2) The parents are not real, not deep characters, and they do not have their own identities.
*My point-of-view: I have seen my own parents (and siblings) and the parents of other friends struggle with this. Many times, they do not have their own identities anymore. Every single minute is spent trying to make it to the next! They try to keep the family together and functioning, in spite of the effects of treatment, fevers and midnight trips to the emergency room, 3 weeks of the month spent in isolation, jobs in jeopardy, birthdays and holidays interrupted, not to mention talks that parents never want to have with their child. I've talked to my mom about this. This becomes their identity. My mom said their jobs become about doing whatever it takes, travelling all over the country (which is very common), researching new studies, and new medicines, all to help us survive and thrive with grace and dignity. It is also their job to prepare, if treatments don't work, to help us die with just as much grace and dignity.
I hope everyone can read this with an open mind and an open heart. Then, reach out to the patients and survivors in your communities. They are wise beyond their years, funny, brave and inspiring.
on January 10, 2012
I've read a lot of books, but this is one of my all time favorites; that's not something I can say about very many books. I'll make it simple; I'm a fifteen year old teenage boy. When I usually read a book, I toss it aside and move on to the next one. And, like most teenage boys, I am not very emotional. At the end of this book, I cried. Not just a few tears either; I was full on bawling my eyes out. That's how good this book is. I promise you, unless you have a heart of stone, you will love this book.
on January 14, 2012
Part one: The Book.
"The Fault in Our Stars" is a work that defies its genre in all the best ways possible. The silly boycrushes and superficial gossip that most writers think makes up 99% of high school steps aside for a beautiful, honest, heartrending story of life, death, and love. I can only compare this book to Markus Zuzak's award-winning "The Book Thief" in terms of sophistication and depth.
Hazel and Augustus are two of the most fleshed-out characters, particularly teenagers, that I have ever read. Their story is a joy and a privilege to read. Furthermore, their love is more real than anything else you will ever find on the Young Adult shelves.
Note- Read it alone if you can. People give you weird looks when you aren't sure if you're laughing or crying.
Part Two: A Response to Several Reviews
This bit is written in response to those who find the dialogue unrealistic, particularly for wee little teenagers. To them, I'd firstly like to request that you stop being condescending. Does every teenager speak like that? No, of course not. But please don't assume that means all teenagers are incapable of using words with more than two syllables, or lack the brainpower to be witty, insightful, and existential in conversation.
Having spent the last five or so years in this nebulous "teenagerdom", I believe I may be qualified enough to judge the "teenageriness" of Green's dialogue. Do the characters sound like teenagers? No. They don't sound like iCarly, or Bella Swan, or Troy Bolton or the majority of teens in pop culture.
But they do sound like me, and my best friends, and the people I surround myself with in high school. They sound like people, people I'd like to meet. Like the books defiance of the Young Adult Genre, Hazel and Augustus defy the conventional teenager model, resulting in some of the most honest and real characters I have read.
Part Three: A Letter
Dear John Green,
A Young Adult
Although his brother Hank might argue that the real "fault in our stars" is that our sun contains limited amounts of hydrogen, which will cause it to eventually run out of the only fuel source capable of supporting its mass against gravity, thereby expanding until its outer shell envelops our tiny planet and consumes it in a fiery death, I think it is more likely that John Green's title refers to a line from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar:
"The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings." Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)
What does this quote mean and how does it relate to a novel about two kids dying of cancer? I'll explore that below.
The Fault in Our Stars is the story of two 16-year-olds who meet at a cancer support group. Hazel Lancaster, the narrator, is afflicted with terminal thyroid cancer which has ravaged her lungs enough to necessitate the use of an oxygen tank wherever she goes. It is during a support meeting that she is introduced to Augustus Waters, whose leg was claimed by a malignant bone tumor and who soon becomes the object of her affection.
When I learned of the plot of this novel, I was initially a bit turned off. I'm reminded of a comment a friend made when I asked her if she wanted to go see the movie 50/50, upon which she exclaimed "who wants to go see a movie about people dying of cancer?" I couldn't come up with a satisfactory response, and we settled for a two-hour movie about the competitive world of robot fighting (which still caused me to shed a tear). So why would anyone, especially young adults, want to read about "cancer kids?" As Hazel herself states in the novel, "cancer books suck." But "The Fault in Our Stars" isn't about cancer, and it's not about death. Cancer is an important subject in the book, but it's not nearly as important as the characters. The disease is mainly used as a vehicle for moving along the development of Hazel and Augustus. In the absence of teen wizards, dystopian death races, and swooning vampire/werewolf feuds, it allows us to view the protagonists in a more complex setting than the traditional high school drama. It also forces the characters to grow up much faster than they should, which I think is important for Green's audience as well as his needs as a writer. The "young adult" label should not be cause for dismissal to older audiences. As equally evident in his previous novels, Green's writing is not dumbed-down in an attempt to cater to a misguided adult notion of the intelligence of teenagers. While Hazel and Augustus certainly share in the same adolescent interests as many of their peers, their dialogue is written at a level that betrays a deeper level of maturity. Amidst trips to the mall and countless video game sessions, the characters expound on subjects in life that everyone faces. While it might seem strange to hear a 16-year-old use words like "cloying" and "sobriquet," this is par for the course in a John Green novel. And strangely, it works very well (provided you keep a dictionary handy). Even though I initially balked at reading a "young adult" title (I'm well into adulthood), I realized that just because a book is marketed toward adolescents, doesn't mean it can't be enjoyed by those outside that niche. I'm hesitant to make the comparison, but "The Fault in our Stars" bridges the age gap in the same vein as Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. It contains content and themes thoroughly relatable to a young audience, while being presented in a way that adults will appreciate.
Green's characters always come off a bit stiff to me and start off sounding like pretentious jerks who are trying too hard to grow up, but I always warm up to them and end up relating to them by the middle of the novel. Gus was no exception. However my opinion of him changed as early as chapter 2, and I knew as soon as I heard him have a conversation with Hazel about their counselor's incorrect usage of the word "literally" (a fact that had literally been bothering me since it was mentioned in the first chapter) that I knew we could be friends. The likeability factor of these characters is one of the reasons the rest of the story can be so heartbreaking to follow at times. Even though I was fully aware from the beginning that Hazel's condition is terminal, she doesn't behave in a way that constantly reminds me of that fact. Instead, her sarcastic wit and outlook on life draw me to her as someone I could easily be friends with (if only there wasn't that problem of her being a fictional character). From very early on, I'm sucked into an emotional attachment to the characters in the story that made it very difficult to actually put the book down (and one of the reasons I will probably read it several more times). Returning to the titular quote above, although it is fully explained in the novel, I think the line from Julius Caesar is also appropriate as a title because Hazel does not let her ultimate fate determine the course of her life.
I thought Green's last two solo books, Katherines and Paper Towns, were pretty good, but they didn't capture that sense of awe I felt after finishing his first novel. And again, I think that's because I've seen such a huge change over the years in Green's ability to connect his characters to the reader. The Fault in our Stars returns me to that era and I'm reminded of just how good of a writer he is. I do not know if it will win the same Young Adult Fiction awards Alaska received, but I do know it will be regarded by myself and many more as one of, if not his best work to date. Regardless of their literary interests, I would definitely recommend it to anyone who is a fan of great writing and character-driven stories.
It should also be mentioned that Green personally signed all 150,000 copies of the first printing of this novel. So if you are buying it soon after release, your copy will almost certainly be autographed.
John Green's other novels include:
Looking for Alaska (2005)
An Abundance of Katherines (2006)
Paper Towns (2008)
Let It Snow: Three Holiday Romances (coauthored - 2010)
Will Grayson, Will Grayson (coauthored - 2010)
on January 13, 2012
Reading this book will possibly be one of the most masochistic things that you will ever do. This is because it is going to cause you real, visceral pain. You are going to cry. I say this as someone who never, ever cries at books, and yet this book brought me to tears. I don't know if I will ever be able to reread this, because it affected me so deeply the first time around that I don't know if I could handle another time. I think the closer you are to the issues in the book, the more it it is going to make you feel. This might be the only place that I would say to exercise caution, because this is not a book where all the problems and sadness are neatly wrapped up by the end. It ends on an incredibly satisfying note, but it is not a happy ending, and so if your life has been closely impacted by cancer at some point then this book might be a little too close to the issue, if this book had come out a couple of years ago I think I might not have been able to read it.
It's not all sadness, though. It also made me laugh out loud, and I got so incredibly invested in the characters that their futures were, for a brief time, intertwined with my own. I cared about what happened to them, on a level that most books can only hope to achieve. The prose is beautiful and incredibly intelligent, like John's other books you feel like you're learning something every time you turn the page. The characters are so witty and wonderful that I wish they really existed in my life.
I was a little bit wary going in, because of all the hype and the way the Nerdfighter community tends to place John's books on such a high pestle that it's amazing he can continuously top the previous ones. This one lives up to everything, though. I think it's his best one yet, because at the heart of everything it made me feel something, and that quality is one that not many other books have been able to attain. I feel emotionally tired after reading it, and it almost seems like it made me a better person on some level.
This book is going to change you. It's breathtaking and heartbreaking and desperately witty, all at the same time, and you should definitely read it. You'll come out of it a different person than when you started it.
Boy, do I have a feeling I'm going to provoke a lot of anger among the Nerdfighter community with this. All I ask is that you hear me out.
I've read all of John Green's full-length, independently written novels (opting to skip all the collaborations and side projects). I find him to be a mostly charming, witty writer, but I've never obsessed over him the way his impressive legion of fans (called Nerdfighters) have. Clearly, I've enjoyed him enough to keep checking in every time he's published a new book, but there have been enough flaws or annoyances to keep me a little jaded about the experience. The Fault in Our Stars may have officially tipped the scales against Green for me. It's the first time I've really found myself irritated by a Green novel.
I'm going to insert a disclaimer here before anyone tries to accuse me of lacking sensitivity for people who are terminally ill. Both of my parents have had, or still have, cancer at the time of this writing. My partner lost his mother to cancer. I also had a beloved aunt who spent the first twenty-three years of my life fighting recurrences of cancer before succumbing (in fact, I was never actually supposed to meet her, since she was given roughly six months to live upon her initial diagnosis--which was six years before I was even born). I've worn a Live Strong bracelet on my wrist every day for the last seven years to remind me of their struggles and the importance of really living every single day. Furthermore, I count Wit: A Play among my favorite books and Terms of Endearment reduced me to emotional rubble (seriously, I can't even watch it. I cried so hard I made ludicrous, hiccupy snuffling noises that made me glad no one was there to witness it).
So please believe me when I say that when I found the protagonists (Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters) of The Fault in Our Stars irritating, it had nothing to do with their illnesses and everything to do with the way Green constructed their personalities. I'll get to my problems with the plot itself at the end.
Green has an upstanding history of creating lovable nerds. He is an author who really understands and celebrates the underdog--the so-called "losers" of the world. It's why his fan community is known as Nerdfighters (not to mention why he has such a massive fan community at all). He's subverting the paradigm that being intelligent or "weird" is wrong (if Glee were capable of consistent storytelling it would be spreading the same message on TV every week). But here's the thing: in all of his other books I've believed in his over-articulate outcasts without an incredible suspension of disbelief. I don't believe in Hazel and Augustus the same way. Their dialogue is at best contrived, at worst cloying and, well, ridiculous.
I chalk this down to the fact that Hazel and Augustus are worth more to Green as Metaphors than as characters. Everything they do has to be Significant and Important and Meaningful. The main plotpoint, where they embark on a quest to find the author of Hazel's favorite book (which famously lacks closure) so they can find out what happens after the last sentence, is a rather obvious metaphor for their fear of death. For goodness' sake, Hazel can't even eat breakfast without opining about how eggs are the victims of typecasting. "I mean seriously," she intones, "How did scrambled eggs get stuck with breakfast exclusivity? You can put bacon on a sandwich without anyone freaking out. But the moment your sandwich has an egg, boom, it's a breakfast sandwich ... I don't want to have 'breakfast for dinner' ... I want to have scrambled eggs for dinner without this ridiculous construction that a scrambled egg-inclusive meal is breakfast even when it occurs at dinnertime."* Do you get it, you guys? THE EGG IS A METAPHOR. I just blew your mind, didn't I? It's OK, take a second if you need to.
Augustus is, if possible, even more obviously cratered with Metaphors. His desire to die heroically is repeatedly signified by his obsession with sacrificing his virtual life in video games instead of winning the game (then, irritatingly, Green feels the need to explain it toward the end anyway Just In Case You Missed It). He's the kind of guy who likes to keep an unlit cigarette between his lips, and will gladly explain it's metaphorical significance to you if you ask politely ("You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don't give it the power to do its killing."), prompting Hazel to remark that he chooses his behaviors based on their metaphorical resonance and Fall Irrevocably In Love With Him.
And there's the other problem I have with Augustus and Hazel: their romance feels like a plot construction far more than it feels like a natural stars-crossed Passion For The Ages. In Green's other books, I believed that Miles fell for self-destructive Alaska, I believed that Margo Roth Spiegelman captivated Quentin Jacobsen enough to make him search for her after she disappeared (in Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns respectively). There was something about their force-of-nature presence that made it believable that someone like Miles or Quentin would be lured in. But Augustus Waters just shows up in Hazel's cancer support group and stares at her like Creepy McCreeperson and she just swoons at him. I'm sorry, that's almost as bad as Bella Swan falling in love with Edward Cullen even though he apparently hates her and is stalking her outside her bedroom window. Green attempts to play it cool by having Hazel recognize that she'd be creeped out if it were an ugly guy staring at her, but that doesn't make their love affair any less sudden or any less inexplicable. The plot won't work if they aren't in love, so reason be damned, and there it is: love at first sight.
And that brings us to my problems with the plot itself.
Observation: repeatedly beginning lines of dialogue in which your characters are supposed to make an Important Observation about Life As We All Know It with "Observation: ..." gets old, especially when the Observation(:) is as trite as "standing in line is a form of oppression." Observation: Random Acts of Capitalization don't make your writing endearing or quirky. Please To Stop.
Nevermind the fact that all the peripheral characters are completely flat (definitely an accusation I never expected to make about John Green)--if they don't matter to the author, why should they matter to us? That the plot is dully predictable is a greater offense to me. The "plot twist" recurrence, the acceptance of fate, the lessons learned by the protagonist at the end ... you see it all coming a mile away.
The strength of The Fault in Our Stars is that it refuses to offer false comfort regarding a subject matter that does not have any happy ending: we are all going to die, but we live our lives pretending that words like "forever" or "always" have meaning (think of Isaac's subplot in re: the latter word). I suspect this is a new concept for many people; maybe that's why it resonates with so many readers. Perhaps I'm more morbid than your average person, but it was nothing new for me. And it's been done better (the aforementioned Wit for one). The Fault in Our Stars wants to have it both ways: it wants to reflect the harsh realities of impermanence and death, but it wants to leave the reader feeling good in the end. Consider that the book Hazel loves so much is lauded for remaining honest through its complete lack of closure, but Green provides us with a full denouement and conclusion. It derides cheap sentimentality, then uses it as a crutch to make the reader Feel Something. In the end you just can't have it both ways, and that's why The Fault in Our Stars is a failure to me.
*"breakfast exlusivity?" WHO TALKS LIKE THAT?! You can tell me that these kids have been forced into early adulthood due to their circumstances until you're blue in the face and I won't buy it. I'm well into adulthood right now and have never heard anyone, ever, talk in such a contrived manner.
on March 30, 2014
I went back and forth trying to decide whether to give this 2 or 3 stars. I hated the way Gus and Hazel talked like they were intellectually superior. It reminded me of the way the characters on Dawson's Creek spoke. It's annoying and unrealistic. I liked Hazel in the beginning, but began to dislike her more and more as the book progressed. The book is so highly rated and it really disappointed me. Oh well, on to the next one.
on June 18, 2014
Seriously okay so they made a movie out of this book. BIG DEAL The plot is terribly drab and depressing. I don't know any teenagers who act like the ones in this book and I KNOW a lot of teenagers. The writing was subpar and the use of large complicated words didn't make the story better but made it worse. In spite of my vast knowledge of words and their definitions (I am not a scholar by any means but I do read a lot) I still found myself shaking my head and wondering why he would use certain words where he did. It's hard to express my displeasure with the book as a whole without giving away any spoilers.
The flow of the story and the timeline were also another reason I didn't like this book. If my child who has cancer and is socially awkward met a boy in a support group for other people who have cancer I would be happy that she found a friend. I would not however allow her to head over to this boys house without first meeting him, his parents, every teacher he had ever had, his youth pastor, his pastor and ask for character references from all his friends and the pope. Okay so I'm being a bit dramatic here but you get my point. I'm not going to let my daughter just hop in the car alone and go see a boy she doesn't know and has only met once. Then the rapid pace at which they fall in love. It's not unbelievable considering my own love story but I can't for one moment believe that these two fell in love in the hour they stared each other down in the "literal heart of Jesus".
There were other things that just didn't fly with me throughout the story but once again I would be "spoiling" it for those of you who are actually reading this review but would no doubt have me tied to the stake and set on fire if I were to give you a spoiler even if I attached a spoiler alert warning in my own blood.
For me it was Ehh....Sure it tugged on my heart strings a bit but seriously if you can read a book about kids with cancer and you don't get your heart a little stomped on then you obviously SUCK.
on May 31, 2012
It seems like every less-than-five-star review needs to begin with the author's assurance of being a Nerdfighter and loving John Green, lest it be downvoted into oblivion. Therefore let me begin by saying that yes, I am a Nerdfighter, and I watch John Green videos religiously. However, TFIOS fell a little flat for me. Most points I want to make have already been addressed, but I still wanted to stand with my fellow three-star-ers.
My main problem with the book is that the characters are just not believable. They do not speak like teenagers. They do not even handle situations like teenagers do. So many interactions between Gus and Hazel are interactions which, plain and simple, just would not happen between real, emotional, scared, awkward, virgin teenagers, let alone ones with cancer who have been socially cut off for much of their lives. Their transactions are so smooth and painless with just the barest occasional tinge of awkwardness, when most of them ought to be drenched. Augustus's flirting comes to mind as a prime example. It is funny and witty and entertaining and it is also the flirting of an experienced 25 year old. Neither character appears to be a three-dimensional relatable teenager, and that's a shame, because creating a believable teenage romance is what Green is trying to do.
Neither Hazel, Augustus, Hazel's mom, or Hazel's dad appear to have their own seperate identity. They all have the same voice and thought pattern and high intelligence level as their creator does. Hazel is John Green. Augustus is John Green. Hazel's mom and dad are John Green. Isaac is John Green. (Now, I know that obviously all of an author's characters are going to reflect bits of themselves, but it shouldn't be so obvious.) Fortunately, even though all the characters are the same person, the person they are is an interesting person, which is why it's still a good book. Just not the OMGOMGBESTBOOKEVER book that the 600+ 5-star reviews imply.
So, conclusion: I like John Green, I like what he brings to the arena of young adult novels. I like that he expects us to already know his references to The Great Gatsby and Kurt Vonnegut. I like that he challenges us. I like that he creates an environment within and without his novels which expects teenagers to be intelligent and demands them to be intelligent and teaches them to be intelligent. I like the fun little jokes and joyful geekery and the great thought-provoking quotes about life. But because the characters were so unbeleivable, I didn't "feel" any of them and I didn't care about them, because Green's own voice drowned theirs out.
So that is my review of TFIOS. Not bad, not amazing either. Better than 80% of the YA novels being published right now, I'm glad that someone with talent gets to be a bestseller. But he still didn't hit it out of the park.
p.s. Thumbs-downers, it is not very much in the spirit of Nerdfighteria to thumbs-down a well-written review just for disagreeing with you. This does add to the discussion and you know it. Stop forgetting to be awesome. Everyone else, DFTBA.
Edit: Two years and 58 comments later, I'm editing this to address the most common refrain of my most vocal critics, which is that Augustus/Hazel are "smart" and that I need to "stop suggesting that teenagers aren't supposed to talk like that." Yeah, I have a Tumblr too. You can stop sending me links that I've already seen.
Here's the thing. The problem is not that Augustus is pretentious in the beginning and that his character arc makes him become less pretentious and therefore it's intentional and okay. The problem is that the entirety of the book, from start to finish, character to character, uses overinflated, pretentious diction, regardless of who is speaking. We as readers are expected to swallow this with the excuse of "stop telling teenagers how smart they can be", and any criticism is easily silenced by accusing the speaker (i.e. me) of insulting teenagers.
In no circumstance did I say that teenagers are not intelligent. When I wrote this review, I was one, and I certainly did not underestimate the intelligence of my peers. The problem is that indicating that your characters are intelligent by giving them all the voice of a 30-year-old Yale English Lit major who is trying to impress a date is not great writing. It is (brace yourselves) mediocre writing that tramples and ignores and substitutes any genuine character voices with your own. As I said, it's not a bad book. It's engaging and well-written. But this is a major flaw, because the entire point of being an author is to emulate the voice of the people you are trying to portray. The romanticized, elitist diction used in Green's work is the whole "date a girl who reads" pretension in book form. The book is cluttered with these long, meandering introspective poem-paragraphs (not just when Augutus is speaking!) and while it is the exact reason teenagers (and adults) love it, it's also very frustrating for people who read to really connect with the characters/plot.
Yeah, Hazel and Augustus are smart kids, and they've been through a lot, and they've had to grow up fast. But they've also been cut off from their peers, they are isolated in most social situations (see: airport scene), and generally "othered" by society because of their diseases. This kind of socialization would have a negative, not a positive, impact on a real human being's ability to interact with others. And while they are both "smart", smart doesn't necessarily mean re: speaking like a Yale lit major.
I really believe that while it's a good book, it's not the best book ever; it receives a healthy popularity boost from John Green's very public profile, and if he were not such a well-known pseudo-celebrity, people would read his books a little more critically.
on March 16, 2012
I loved this book when I started it. It instantly had my attention because it felt like it was in the same vein as "It's Kind of a Funny Story" and "50/50". Mind you, this is the first John Green book I've read. But for a book that seemingly seeks to kill the typical-cancer-book-stereotype, it just barely succeeds. It's not a bad book but a lot of it is ridiculously predictable. The characters are a little flat, their attempts at charm come off as pretentious and there are some situations that are just so improbable that they're annoying to read (Peter Van Houten in the second and completely unnecessary third act). I'm not bashing the book. It's a mildly interesting read that I personally find overrated.