Book: A Review
Book: The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green
Review: A test for future reviews.
Currently #1 on the New York Times Bestseller List, The Fault in Our Stars (TFiOS) is a Young Adult, Fiction book. The book is made of paper and other cardboard-related, carbon compounds and typed in black, laser-printer ink.
That description just about sums up the classification of the book.
TFiOS stars Hazel, a sixteen-year-old girl diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and her adventure through life and through love. The last sentence should make the character of Augustus, a seventeen-year-old boy diagnosed with osteosarcoma and Hazel’s love interest, painfully obvious.
A small caveat: however painful the obviousness of the book is, the characters themselves are not painful. The descriptions, motivations, and writing of the characters are very realistically depicted. The dangers of the realistic book is the killing of hope, at least in my opinion; however, Green maintains the feeling of hope quite strongly as the characters pass from fictional event to fictional event.
Of course, any reader would find the task of disengaging him- or herself from characters who are so funny and well spoken. Green said that one of his goals for TFiOS was to mix sadness and humor in a way only ‘real life’ could create.
“I’m Isaac. I’m seventeen. And it’s looking like I have to get surgery in a couple of weeks, after which I’ll be blind.”
“Augustus, perhaps you’d like to share your fears with the group.”
“I fear oblivion,” he said without a moment’s pause. “I fear it like the proverbial blind man who’s afraid of the dark.”
“Too soon,” Isaac said, cracking a smile.
“Was that insensitive?” Augustus asked. “I can be pretty blind to other people’s feelings.”
That passage came from the first chapter of TFiOS, which you can hear John Green reading in the video below.
As might be expected from a humorous, love-filled, cancer book, the story plays with many of the reader’s emotions. None of the emotions are strictly new to readers, nor are the devices through which those emotions are called upon. TFiOS does not surprise a well-read reader and TFiOS’s deliverance of its themes cannot be compared to other works of literary grandeur.
Just to be perfectly clear, TFiOS does not strive to be the type of book which surprises with each new plot twist and which generates intense literary debates. This statement is not to say that TFiOS can’t surprise or generate debates, just that TFiOS is perfectly comfortable with its position as a YA book.
Also, while TFiOS’s story and plot elements may be a little transparent, the characters are very much opaque. Hazel and Augustus stand, not as complicated, multidimensional figures of Faulkner or Marquez fame, but as real people with perfectly logical unpredictability. The reader may not always know what Hazel and Augustus do next, but there is some assurance that neither Hazel nor Augustus will betray their motivations.
The motivations and actions of Hazel and Augustus are, of course, the core of the novel. Green wants to explore the many intricate workings of how to live a full life, despite having a short life. The nested quote which best summarizes the novel comes from Peter Van Houten, the fictional author of the equally fictional An Imperial Affliction:
Were she better, or you sicker, then the stars would not be so terribly crossed, but it is the nature of stars to cross, and never was Shakespeare more wrong than when he had Cassius note, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars / But in ourselves.” Easy enough to say when you’re a Roman nobleman (or Shakespeare!) but there is no shortage of fault to be found amid our stars.
The characters in TFiOS find themselves thrown, whether thrown together or thrown off, by fate on a near-daily basis. The most inspiring and thought-provoking messages which stem from the novel arise from the characters’ dealing with fate. Whether, like Augustus, they choose to fight against their fate because of their inherent fear of oblivion, or whether, like Hazel, they choose to accept oblivion yet nonetheless change what their fate means.
Just as Hazel and Augustus attempt to write their best story with their lives, so too do the readers of TFiOS create their own meaning from the messages of the book. These personal messages are what connect the readers with the characters and what drives readers to laugh and cry and:
“gasp at the beauty of a sentence or the twist of a tale.” — E. Lockhart, National Book Award Finalist and Printz Honor–winning author of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks and The Boyfriend List, praising The Fault in Our Stars
A book, as John Green notes, is a personal interaction between the author, the reader, and the book itself. The author invests her- or himself into making the book, the story of the book becomes its own entity, and the reader develops her or his own personal context for the story.
In today’s era of novelization, authors seem to be more concerned with making the worlds come to life rather than breathing life into their worlds. TFiOS is a rare treat because so much of John Green is written into the book. Green claims, in several interviews, video blogs, and on the “Tour de Nerdfighting”, the book signing tour for TFiOS, that initially the book was too much about him and that he wrote himself out of the book. That notion could not be more incorrect. John Green is evident in almost all aspects of the book: as a person, he is evident in Hazel; as a mortal, he is evident in Augustus; as a parent, he is evident in Hazel’s mom; as a crier, he is evident in Hazel’s dad; etc.
New readers may not connect as much as “Nerdfighters”, the viewers of Green’s video blogs, to the ‘John Green’ aspects of the book, but the author’s presence can definitely be felt, which enhances the experience of reading the book. Of course, readers who want to know if TFiOSis the right book for them should read the first two chapters, or alternatively they should listen to John Green read the first two chapters. The link to the first chapter being read is found earlier in this review, while the second chapter being read is the link below.
The Fault in Our Stars is an extraordinarily well written book and deserves its #1 ranking on the Bestseller List. Readers who want to be shocked and surprised may not enjoy this book as much as readers who want to be able to think about their lives through a different perspective.
Also, just to show off, here is my signed copy of TFiOS:
The book says “To Heather” because I wanted to thank Heather for buying me the book. The first signature is John Green’s; the anglerfish, or Hanklerfish, is Hank Green’s signature; and the last signature belongs to Katherine Green, Hank’s wife.