Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

20 December, 2012 Reviews 9 comments

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John GreenThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Series: Standalone
Published by Dutton Children's Books on 10th January 2012
Pages: 313
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Format: select
Source: Purchased
Amazon Good BooksBook Depository

Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 13, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

John Green has become, quickly and without warning, an inescapable presence in my reading world.  Ever since the release of The Fault in Our Stars, the man seems to be every which way that I turn.  Not a day goes by in which I’m not seeing him somewhere, with one fellow reader or another singing praises about the greatness that is Green and his novels in various corners of the internet 24/7.  And from what I’ve seen, the recognition has not been given without merit.  Green appears to be a very down-to-earth, relatable sort of fellow, one who will act a little crazy sometimes and have a good laugh at his own expense every once in a while.  I like that.

And when it comes to his craft, I think that, for the most part, he lives up to all of the hype.  Which is a good thing, because I had ridiculously high expectations when I started this book.  It appears that every person whom I associate with on Goodreads has read The Fault in Our Stars, and every one of them seems to adore it.  After one of my close friends picked it up and was left a sniveling wreck by the final page, I knew that my time to take the journey had, at long last, come.

And what was my experience with this relatively short and unassuming piece of YA literature, a book placed on a pedestal so high by my peers that the notion of me not liking it seemed impossible?

Well, it almost comes as a relief to be able to tell you that I enjoyed my first Green novel a great deal.  As much as I’d like to, I can’t say that I love this book, hence the lack of a fifth star, but I can state with confidence that it did a thoroughly admirable job in living up to all of the hype.

Before I get to the review proper, I will say this: No, I did not cry.  I’ll admit that I was hoping to.  Plenty of books have made me emotional (I wouldn’t be a real reader if none did), but only one has ever actually made me shed tears.  I was hoping that The Fault in Our Stars would be the second to do so, if only because I wanted the story to be as emotionally resonating for me as it has been for others, but, alas, this was not meant to be.  I do not say this in order to criticize Green’s storytelling or to make it out to be less than it truly is.  I mention it simply to because I know that many reviewers like to admit to their tears, or lack thereof, in order to explain their attitude towards the book as a whole.

Now, let’s move on to the important stuff.  The book’s biggest strength lies in its characters and the interplay between them.  Hazel and Augustus are both beautifully realized, and their relationship is easily one of the best that I’ve read in a YA novel in years.

Hazel is everything that most female, teenage protagonists/narrators are not, and she stands as a paragon of well-written and effective characterization amongst the endless number of Mary Sues that infest teen-centric literature today.  I find it rather unfortunate that a man appears to be more capable at telling a story from a female point of view than most women writers are today, but it stands as a testament to Green’s talent that he is able to create such a powerful personality despite the differences in position between himself and his creation.  Hazel is at turns funny and acidic, sweet and gloomy, optimistic and bitter.  Her attitude towards her condition and all that comes with it is both heartbreaking and heartwarming, and she reacts to it all in a way that simply feels real.

Augustus, meanwhile, is an interesting character because he is the kind of person that I normally despise.  He’s gorgeous.  He’s witty.  He’s deep.  He’s quirky.  I hate male characters like this because they are always way too perfect.  They make me feel inadequate and, I’ll admit it, jealous.  It’s the same sort of response that I have when I have to listen to my female friends talk incessantly about how utterly amazing and flawless they find their favorite celebrities to be.  Instead of coming across as enormously pretentious and smug, however, Augustus manages to be nothing but sweet and charming.  It’s frustrating, because I spent most of the book dearly wanting to dislike the guy, and yet I found it impossible to do so.  He’s simply too sincere and too kind to be unlikable   It helps that Green makes sure that Augustus is not without his faults, which become ever more apparent as the story goes along.  And when I say “faults,” I don’t mean the silly, strength-dressed-as-a-weakness kind that YA authors commonly like to give their inhumanly immaculate love interests.  Having your supermodel-lookalike’s only real blunder be the fact that he “cares too much” does not make him a deep or complex character.  Augustus certainly threatens at times to cross into “way too perfect” territory, but he never makes the decisive step, and it makes him completely endearing.

The supporting cast, including the parents and friend Isaac, is, with one exception, as good as the central couple.  Despite their status as secondary characters, Green gives them all just as much emotional depth and complexity as he does the two in the spotlight, and their presence only strengthens and compliments the interaction between Hazel and Augustus by fleshing out the world in which they live and giving it a thorough sense of realism.  Their struggles are just as believable, their reactions just as understandable, and it all makes the story too ingrained in reality to be anything less than stunning.

You’ll notice that I mentioned there being a “single exception” to the uniformly great cast of characters.  That single exception is the reclusive figure of Peter Van Houten, whose presence in the novel simply feels off.  While his initial role in the story as a hero-turned-villain is a good one (though the reveal of his “true” nature struck me as perhaps a bit too cartoonish to be believable), his latter appearance comes across as unnecessary and unrealistic.  His scenes in the last few chapters are the only ones that don’t seem to fit, and they disrupt events when they are at their most emotional and significant, marring their impact and feeling incredibly intrusive.

John Green’s writing, though occasionally too stiff and repetitive for my tastes, is fantastic as well.  The way he uses his words is oftentimes breathtaking, and some portions of the novel are so perfectly structured that even the smallest details are turned into moments of real poignancy.  Under his hand, a piece of information that would otherwise be completely inconsequential becomes significant and compelling, forcing you to pause and reflect on what you’ve just read.  It’s truly the little things – the repeated back-and-forth banter of “okay,” for instance, or the fact that the characters at one point drink from cups featuring Winnie-the-Pooh – that make the novel so worthwhile.

This sort of penmanship meshes seamlessly with the story, which manages to balance humor and pathos in a remarkable way.  Countless scenes are, despite the book’s subject matter, laugh-out-loud funny, and just as many warrant tears, or, at the very least, a good bit of emotional instability.  The events that unfold, for the most part, never feel unrealistic or lazy in their construction, and they all add up to a story that is tightly cohesive and smoothly constructed.  Green manages to keep things moving at a good pace, no point ever feeling rushed or sluggish, and the novel’s relatively short length, along with its author’s fluid writing, ensures that The Fault in Our Stars is an immersive experience that is easy to see through to the end.

My only real problem with Green’s storytelling is that it feels, to some degree, exploitative.  I can’t help but wonder if it’s right for an author to use the very real and sobering subject of cancer in a fictional way such as this.  Is his exploration of the disease in an unreal setting a good thing, acting as a means to opening an oblivious audience’s eyes to the truths of something that many would like to pretend does not exist?  Or is it a cash-grab of sorts that uses the real suffering of human beings to create an easily attainable emotional bond with readers who are, more importantly, buyers?  I’d like to believe that the former theory is the correct one, but I also cannot completely dismiss the latter.  Some portions of the story, especially near the end, feel a bit too heavy-handed, the hardships that every single character seems to face too much, and the consequent effect is one that feels like authorial manipulation.


To Conclude…

The Fault in Our Stars is not my usual sort of read.  I typically find contemporary fiction to be rather boring and cliché-driven, and so discovering a novel in the genre that I thoroughly enjoyed is refreshing.  Green is a fantastic writer and storyteller, and I see his work as a wonderful example of YA literature done right.  While I can certainly understand why some would find issues with the subject matter, I firmly believe that every reader who enjoys YA needs to give this one, at the very least, a try.  It’s not perfect, but it certainly comes close, and its emotional power cannot be denied.  This is a book that will stick with you.  This is a book that will truly make you think.  And in today’s world of generic teen romance and shoddy writing, such a feat is nothing less than a minor miracle.

Bravo, Green.  Bravo.

Paul Beimers

Paul Beimers

Reviewer at Cuddlebuggery
A reviewer, blogger and trope enthusiast who isn't nearly as consistent with his reading as he should be.

9 Responses to “Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green”

  1. cynicalsapphire

    I gave TFIOS that fifth star, but it didn’t make me cry either. I’m not a big crier. Books make me feel emotions but rarely make me weep. What was the one book that did? You have peaked my curiosity.
    One of my friends accused Augustus of being a manicpixiedreamboy, but I felt that Green did a great job of walking the line, and keeping him on this side of impossibly perfect. 
    Hmm, I now want to reread the book and evaluate how I feel about Van Houten. I guess I felt that they were intentionally jarring, as some sort of statement about our expectations and our impressions of authors based on their novels. On a reread someday, I’ll need to pay more attention to that.
    So far as the cancer goes, I like to think it’s the former. Yes, terrible things do happen to the characters, but the overall mood is one of hope and not one of tragedy. I think his balance of humor and darkness keep the book from being a melodramatic sobfest meant solely to tug on our heartstrings. What do I know, though? I’m not John Green.
    I just love his writing so much.

    • PBeimers

      cynicalsapphire I agree.  The fact that Green balances the tragedy and heartbreak with humor and hope definitely make the story feel more meaningful than manipulative, though I would understand if other readers didn’t feel that way.
      And the one book that I have actually shed tears over is Patrick Ness’ “A Monster Calls.”  One of my favorites!  (And, incidentally, another novel that deals with the topic of cancer.)

      • cynicalsapphire

        PBeimers cynicalsapphire Oh, I’ve been meaning to read Patrick Ness, but the to-read list has not thus far permitted. I did not know that was about cancer at all.

  2. jarndt08

    I have heard that this is the saddest book ever, but I am always so wary of cancer books. It’s just sooo heavy.  I do need to read a John Green book because I feel that I am doing myself a disservice by having never read one. One day!

  3. Silje

    Great review! I gave this book the fifth star after some consideration. I agree with you that the whole Peter Van Houten thing in Amsterdam and at the end felt a bit off. I didn’t think it fitted the rest of the book but I decided that since I liked the rest of the book so much and I didn’t really hate the parts with Van Houten I would give it all the stars I could give. I think John Greens writing is breathtaking as you say, hilarious and filled with emotions and meaning and the story is also beautiful. I had of course heard of John Green before this book but I didn’t know of all the praise he got. I think he deserves it but not knowing made me not know what I was in for and it probably gave me a even better experience. I am looking forward to more John Green and happy that a norwegian publisher is publishing TFIOS in a couple of months so I can recommend this to the students who only read books in norwegian. 
    I have to say I find it a bit hard to recommend this book because many people get sceptical at the mention of the word cancer. I try to say that this is a lot more than a book about cancer, and most importantly it seems like an honest book about living with a terminal disease. And as you say here in the comments the humour makes the message stand out more and also more bearable for the reader. It makes you reflect instead of breaking down and cry all the time. I never thought of this as manipulative in any way but rather a YA-book that has the guts to be honest and even funny about something very serious. I think that a lot of literature for children and teens (at least in Norway) doesn’t want to treat the difficult subjects or try to make them not so difficult maybe because the last thing adults want is to think about children hurting.  In a way I can see what you mean about the end though. 
    This turned out to be a very long comment. I didn’t intend to but this book makes me eager and I can’t always find the right words when I write in english so I have to take some detours to get to the point:-) Patrick Ness is already on my to read-list but I think it just bumped up a notch. I also have to recommend Jandy Nelsons The Sky is Everywhere that also combine tragedy and humour in a very sucessful way. This is probably my favourite book this year just ahead of TFIOS.

    • PBeimers

      @Silje  I think that what really makes this one stand out for me is the honest exploration of subjects that tend to otherwise be avoided or cheapened.  Some might interpret a lack of tears as being indicative of a lack of emotion on my part, but I certainly don’t think so.  It’s one of those books that, as you said, really makes you think, and I did a great deal of that after I finished reading.  It may not have inspired a physical reaction in me, but the story still had quite an impact, and that’s what makes this novel so good.  Few books in general manage to be so profound, especially when they’re in a genre that is as frequently shallow and uninspired as YA fiction.

  4. The Hipster Owl's Bookshelf

    I was wondering why you hadn’t shed tears, and then I noticed you were a guy. lol I honestly don’t think this is the type of book that would make a guy tear up, but I’m pretty sure most females would have a harder time not tearing up a little.  I didn’t bawl, but I did feel my eyes get a bit moist at the last chapter.    Btw, I quite agree about your perception of Augustus. (Such a funny name!) He really is exactly the type of guy character one would normally hate. Yet for some reason…you can’t! Ug. lol  🙂  Also, what the heck with Peter Van Houten? That man is sick…and…I’m pretty sure we could have had about 1/2 less of him in the entire book, and the story would have been all the better for it.   GREAT REVIEW!!  Thank you 🙂

  5. veela_valoom

    I really enjoyed TFIOS & it made me cry (which is weird because in real life I normally only angry-cry, not sad-cry). 
    John Green writing about cancer did not bother me because I feel like he came from a real genuine place, not the “cancer books sell a lot of copies” place.  Because of his experience as a chaplain in a children’s hospital, and Esther (early Nerdfighter, died of cancer. He’s emphasized over and over that Hazel is not Esther but I can’t imagine this book would exist without her) that he had more of a right to tackle the topic than most people.  Also even though cancer is a huge part of this book, the story is more about first love and living than it is about dying.

    • PBeimers

      veela_valoom I’m very unfamiliar with Green’s personal life, so thank you for the insight!  All of these comments have certainly convinced me that Green’s intentions when writing this book were nothing but genuine.  I can understand why others may feel differently, but I think that one’s attitude towards such a delicate subject is dictated by a great many factors, and, as a consequence, reader opinion can differ to an extreme degree.

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