Posts Tagged ‘John Green’

I finished reading The Fault in Our Stars this weekend in one sitting. Late to the John Green party, I know. I’d been hearing about it for ages, put it on my request list for the library, finally got it but didn’t have time to read it in the loan period, returned it, put it on my request list again, and finally read it in a large gulp. I’m glad I had time to mull it over a little before writing up my thoughts on it; I would have been a little too dismissive of some parts without some additional time to reflect.

Warning: This review contains spoilers for the book

Short review: I really like it, but felt disappointed in the last 20 pages or so (more on that in a bit).

It may sound callous to those who adore the book, but Green stacked the deck in his favor from the beginning. Death will always be moving because death is sad. And the only thing people care about more than young love is young cut down during the first bloom. I am convinced this is the reason Titanic did so well: The tragic young love story made it the massive blockbuster success it turned out to be. Of course, there were a lot of other elements that added to the appeal, as with Green’s book, but the combination of two young lovers torn apart by death is a potent mix. Just those two things alone were enough to make The Fault in Our Stars a best-seller, but Green is a good writer, and that elevates it from best-seller to art.

During the majority of the book, I wanted to run out to everyone I know and shove it in their hands, saying “You have got to read this!!” The characters were likeable and strong, the plot never boring, and a stable home life for both teenagers that felt realistic was a relief.

I think that was one of the major other appeals of the novel: The teenagers felt real and talked like they would today. Oftentimes adult writers of YA can try too hard to ape the cadence and thoughts of their young characters, and it comes across as inauthentic and, well, try-hard. This book didn’t condescend to its juvenile readers, which juvenile readers appreciate. And it makes sense for Hazel, a literature-loving teen, to quote poetry by large verses and for the brushed-against-death Gus to philosophize in rapid-fire. I spent more time in my teenage years obsessed with and dissecting literature, art, philosophy, and theology than I have since, when the daily task of living as an adult drags my thoughts away from the infinite and down into the moment.

There were so many heavy things in this book, it is my prime choice to use in a teen book club. Green carefully chose all the elements of the novel to blend seamlessly into the themes, from the champagne, which Hazel and Gus enjoy less because of the immunity they’ve built up to drugs and medicines, to Holland – half underwater, just as Hazel’s lungs are – to living out a fantastic life in virtual reality, to the specific word choices. If it weren’t a library book, I would have underlined several parts, one of which struck me strongly as I read it:

“And for me, that was the final and truly unbearable tragedy: Like all the innumerable dead, he’d once and for all been demoted from haunted to haunter.”

The word demoted leapt out at me. This seems to me to be one of the ideas the book is toying with: Which is better, life or death? When Gus is weak, emaciated, vomit-covered and moaning, “Why can’t I die? Why can’t I die?” why doesn’t he ask, “Why can’t I LIVE?” The dead are often afforded a more generous remembrance once they have shuffled off the mortal coil, like the case of Gus’s ex-girlfriend, who got the Asshole Tumor and turned into a raging bitch before she died, but was remembered by everyone (except, guiltily, by Gus) as a great person. Would their awe of Anne Frank be as potent if they had a chance to meet her before she died, or would the experience be like that of meeting Peter Van Houten?

My favorite part of the novel was the time in the Anne Frank House, after the crushing letdown of meeting the esteemed and disappointing Van Houten in person, and I think the exchange between the both-doomed Hazel and Gus before their first kiss summarizes the pathos and humor of the book better than any place else (though so much of the book is quotable):

“We should team up and be this disabled vigilante duo roaring through the world, righting wrongs, defending the weak, protecting the endangered.”

“Our fearlessness shall be our secret weapon.”

“The tales of our exploits will survive as long as the human voice itself.”

“And even after that, when the robots recall the human absurdities of sacrifice and compassion, they will remember us. They will robot-laugh at our courageous folly.”

“But something in their iron robot hearts will yearn to have lived and died as we did: on a hero’s errand.”

Just re-reading that part chokes me up a little.

But, as mentioned, the end left be unsatisfied, and I find it difficult to pinpoint exactly why. Maybe any ending would be a let-down, as there is no conclusion but death with these characters. I also was convinced it would end mid-sentence, as An Imperial Affliction did, and forced myself not to look ahead to see if I was right, so I maybe disappointed myself. But the more I thought about it, the more I think the ending is supposed to be anti-climatic (though it ends with a wedding vow, “I do, Augustus. I do.”) As Hazel says numerous times, the story of cancer is different and uglier than the hype it gets. Augustus doesn’t get his hero’s death, and Hazel won’t get to go out in a mid-blaze of literary glory. Death is final, and death is the final demoter.

Undoubtably, this book resonates with teens. I hopped on Tumblr afterward and found a wealth of John Green quotes, gifs, and fan art of his novels. I had heard about how much of a rock star he was in the YA lit world before reading his books, but glancing around at his various forms of social media (Tumblr and vlog brothers, particularly) confirms it. He really does go to where the teens are, doesn’t condescend, and they love him for it.

This book will stay with me. That’s the best praise I can give it.