Friday, May 11, 2012
Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
16-year-old cancer patient Hazel has been in and out of hospitals for years. The routine of her daily existence, however, is drastically shaken when she meets Augustus Waters, in remission and more fascinating than any one young man should have the right to be. Hazel struggles with whether or not to let Augustus into her tenuous life, and in the process goes on the trip of her life and just might find someone who makes life worth living.
In this day and age, the line between artist and art is a blurred and confused one. Publishers encourage their authors to have an online presence—and no author has been more successful at that than John Green, with his popular YouTube videos and millions of Nerdfighter followers. It is nearly impossible to separate THE FAULT IN OUR STARS from its hype, should you even want to do that. In between or in spite of the cancerkid plotline, TFiOS is distinctly John Green, and that comes with its pros and cons.
Pros: TFiOS is chock-full of John Green-isms. His characters are, in a sense, himself; he is his characters. Theoretically (or technically) this is true for all writers and their characters, but the public John Green himself is already such a character that Hazel, Augustus, and the others just seem like extensions of his online persona. His words in their mouths. They’re far from being bad words, no, but they’re very recognizably his, and readers who perhaps were trying to appreciate the characters and the writings on their own may find it a slightly more difficult job.
Cons: Having grown up reading John Green—that is, having read each of his novels within a few weeks after they were released—it’s interesting observing the development (or lack thereof) of his subsequent novels. That John Green is good at what he does is no secret. He’s funny, he’s insightful, he’s energetic. But he could’ve done more with Hazel, Augustus, and the others. Instead, his characters and stories seem to stall at “witty” and never progress to “profound.” Events could have been expanded into something bigger and more meaningful; instead, things were rushed or felt simply like vehicles for comic relief.
That being said, I still felt that THE FAULT IN OUR STARS was a great read. I always enjoy reading about smart characters, and there were plenty of moments where I nearly jumped up and ran around to find someone to show a particular quote to. We need more YA like this, this combination of humor and intelligence and interesting thoughts. TFiOS being a cancer book, there are certain things that we readers can expect over the course of the story, which dampened the end effect for me somewhat.
The TFiOS reading experience brings up the interesting dilemma of whether or not we readers should consider our relationship with and knowledge of the author when reading his or her book. How you enjoy THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, then, sort of depends on your context. On its own and compared to nothing, it’s a pretty good book with its funny and sad moments. Compared to YA lit as a whole, it’s rather respectable and reason for encouraging more books of its kind. Compared to The John Green Persona, however, it’s a mere middling extension of what he’s already good at, and doesn’t do anything new.
Doesn’t mean, though, that I didn’t enjoy it.
Cover discussion: John Green just can't catch a break on his book's covers, can he? This looks like someone like a kindergartener loose at the crafts table. I get that sometimes the less complex cover is the more effective one, especially when the story contains so much, but did it really have to include cloud shapes and crayon lines?
Dutton Juvenile / Jan. 10, 2012 / Hardcover / 336pp. / $17.99