The Fault In Our Stars by John Green (3 out of 5)
Yes, there are two covers for this fine piece of literature. The image chosen for this post is the original; the movie cover makes me think of the classic movie The Bad News Bears. For the record, most of those purchasing it from the bookstore are buying the book with this cover. There is zero interest in seeing this movie, mostly because of being part of the rare breed who would rather read the book than have a movie desecrate the memory of the written word. Yes, it is a young adult/teen novel, but definitely in the category of adults can certainly read it. And they are, if the NYT bestseller list is any indication.
John Green has made a career out of writing memorable, approachable books that the teen mindset can sink into and vanish without a trace, and not a peep of protest is heard. Adults, too, but the attention Green deserves only comes at the release of this book. He has written a number of young adult titles before this, but due to the movie rights being optioned almost immediately, this is the title that will launch him into the forefront of the young adult author community. Personally, this reader’s favorite title is Will Grayson, Will Grayson. Paper Towns is well known for being a summer reading title. An Abundance of Katherines is a book the staff is afraid to mention, as it would bring a flock of rabid baristas out of fake underbrush. Fault In Our Stars is a venerable gem, although it lacks the sparkle that would have kept me extolling its virtues for hours. The tragedy, at least in this case, is that it’s almost too realistic in its layout and eventual end. There’s no true ending besides the one that is, and I felt it was a bit too depressing. Maybe too much so for the teenagers, although there are others who think that, including one of my regulars this afternoon, and she’s in her sixties.
Hazel’s had some luck that’s brought her a few extra years on this Earth, but her cancer diagnosis is terminal, and there’s no medical miracle that’s going to save her life beyond a few years, if that. Her parents (a duo that I cannot even touch, in terms of how unrealistic they appear to be in dealing with the fact that their 16 year old has terminal cancer) make her attend a support group for kids with cancer. The support group brings forth a gorgeous young man named Augustus Waters (that name is the best, no joke!), an ex ball player and amputee. Together, they face their medical pitfalls and emotional landmines, and fall in love. There’s a side story about a novel and Amsterdam that is quite sweet, and I enjoyed that, as it ends up taking control of the plot for some of the book, and wrestling it away from the inevitable ending. Hazel and Augustus attempt to cope with their mutual diagnoses and find some quiet ground upon which to stand, despite their family issues and the C word, which is the silent demon lying in wait. Your feeling from reading this is that somehow, love conquers all, and that our duo lives happily ever after. Well, that’s unrealistic, and John Green doesn’t deal his cards that way. Things end a little bit differently than I thought, and I am glad he went in that direction, but there were still little fires of dissension that needed to be put out.
Augustus is a great character. Hazel is a great character. Van Houten, the author, is a great character. There is no arguing that fact. The parents? I would have thrown both of them into a jail cell with Carrot Top; they were annoying, in my opinion. Some people have a hard time dealing with those who are dying from cancer, and being cold and heartless is not the way to go; that’s why the parents can suck it. Grief manifests itself in odd ways, and so does the harsh reality of the cancer diagnosis. The characters who are terminal? They’re terminal, the parents should not treat them as expendable, and that therapy (or a support group) will make it easier, or take away the reality of what is. Then again, without that support group, there would be no Augustus and Hazel meeting up and there would be no book. Green writes great characters, even when one would love to smack them.
The ending? I guess I understand why he did it the way he did. It’s also not a total shocker, because one way or another, the book was going to have to end, and with the plot laid out as it is, there’s no real way you can end it but the way that he ended it. The end message is gorgeous, and I love how he went about ending this novel. That said, I was depressed as hell by the end of the book. Beautiful? Yes. Touching? Yes. Heartbreaking? Definitely. That’s why 3 stars. It may be too much for a teen to take, if it was too much for the 41-year old to take. Or it may have the opposite effect. The only way to know? Read it.