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Not in the same league as TFIOS
on May 15, 2014
I'm by no means a nerdfighter, or a John Green acolyte. I write YA in my free time, and I like to read the works of successful authors to glean ways to improve my own skills. So hopefully anyone who reads this will take my criticisms as just that, and not some agenda to destroy Mr. Green.
As with TFIOS, John Green's prose flows, floating the reader along like a lazy river. It was easy to read 30 to 40 pages at a clip and not even realize it. This is probably his biggest strong suit, and he leans hard on it. I don't blame him at all, but I did think that the book, while not long by YA length, could've shed a few thousand words and suffered no loss in message or quality. A minor quibble, and certainly not the reason I gave this book 3 stars. If anything, the book would be 4 stars if only based on the prose. It was the other elements of the book that detracted from my enjoyment.
While the highly unrealistic (maybe not among nerdfighters, but even as a HS nerd I never quoted poetry or had a preternatural knowledge of arcane subjects that I inserted into my conversations) dialogue seems to suit the characters in TFIOS, especially Augustus Waters, I found a lot of the dialogue seemed odd. Ben's used of honeybunny seemed like a weak attempt to make him discernibly different from his friends. Radar was my favorite character, a genuine kid with odd parents, and an unhealthy obsession with John Greens version of Wikipedia. Even still, I couldn't tell the characters apart for the most part. There wasn't much variation, besides a random y'all, in speech, and none of them seemed to have identifying physical cues, which every person has. We all react differently to happy things, sad things, etc. Everyone seemed to react that same, which seemed odd.
My biggest problem was the main character. He reminded me of Clay from 13 Reasons Why, a rather milquetoast protagonist who seems compelled by forces unknown to chase after a girl with home he's had very little contact with. In Clay's case, its one party. In Q's case, its one random night out. In both situations, it makes no sense that the protagonist is so drawn to these flawed, screwed up girls. Essentially it seems to come down to the fact that HS boys are so stupid and vapid, that Margo's curvy ass, and Hannah's apparently stunning beauty are enough to induce feelings of love, rather than lust.
I actually would've understood if Q thought that Margo was worth chasing because he wanted to ravage her. It's more realistic than him fawning over her, literally forgetting that he's a top student with friends who actually get a crap about him. His entire life becomes Margo, this overwrought girl who talks in grandiose speeches and in all reality, is a pathetic person who goes on a revenge spree because she can't deal with the fact that her boyfriend would want another girl. Boo hoo, woe is me, I need to run away. That girls problems were so minor and silly, that John Green is forced to turn them into villains to make her more sympathetic. It doesn't work in my opinion.
We never really get to truly understand Q's motivations. He's a normal kid who is logical enough to not run away with Margo to new York, but he's crazy enough to drive a day plus at 77 mph to find her in some random upstate town. Once again, the impetus simply isn't there. If at least the pair had a sexual history, or were truly in love, it would seem logical. Without some kind of pre-existing relationship, it seems trite and stupid. This isn't something that only John Green does, its endemic among YA books, which seem to constantly throw two characters into a crazy situation, which somehow leads to love in a matter of hours. The trend needs to stop. We were all teens. NONE of us feel that fast, so why should we accept it in a book? Especially in 'realistic' fiction?
My last problem is the section where they find Margo. The car ride was actually the best part of the book. I loved the friendship and the fun they had. Margo was such a downer, a selfish louse who deserved nothing but disdain. I lost all respect for Q when he kissed her, and also when he simply seemed to gloss over the fact that she never wanted him to come. He came across as a pathetic loser who was so desperate for Margo's lips and presumably what was between her hips, he'd take it any way he could get it, even if it cost him his self-respect. At least TFIOS had a message. I didn't find this book to be moving at all. It was a rather average effort from a very talented writer.