The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green
I wasn’t really aware of the book The Fault In Our Stars until the movie came out. I didn’t see the film, as I try to read the book first whenever possible. I heard people raving about how good it was and that I just had to read it to be complete as a person. I finally got around to it yesterday and I certainly enjoyed it. This was a pleasant surprise as I generally find young adult fiction sorely lacking.
Whenever I pick up a YA book for the first time, I get a little nervous. It’s not that young adult fiction is bad, per se, it’s more that it has a bias that way. It has a built in audience, which means that inferior books which would not survive normally have a decent chance of not only being read, but being popular. This is unfortunate as it undermines young adult fiction as a genre in the minds of many serious readers. I will openly acknowledge that the majority of YA should be considered in the “inferior book” category, but that does not mean I can discount books simply because they are young adult fiction. Every book should stand on its own. I will argue that The Fault In Our Stars does so.
One of the most valuable things about fiction is its ability to instill empathy in the reader. When you read, you put yourself into the perspective of another (usually the protagonist) and learn to see through their eyes. I think this is especially important in young adult fiction. The target audience is still learning the life skill of empathizing and reading can help strengthen it. This, to me, was the most impressive part about this book. Hazel felt like a real person that I could talk to and identify with. Sure, I don’t have her problems and she’s a very different person than I am. But when she hurt, I felt it. When she laughed, I smiled. It is very rare that I feel as much for a character as I did for Hazel and for that, John Green deserves kudos.
Hazel and Augustus have two main things in common: cancer and pretentiousness. Hazel has terminal cancer, Augustus has lost a leg to his disease. As teenagers, neither of their lives are exactly easy. How do they deal with it? By expressing themselves grandiloquently, using big words and generally being snarky. In truth, this penchant to employ sesquipedalian words is something I have done since high school and it resonated with me. I felt not only that these kids were smart, they desperately wanted acknowledgement from others that they were so. Sarcasm is used both as a plea and armor.
Because Hazel is terminal, she lives with a fundamental lack of hope. She is living on borrowed time, and she has no idea how much longer she might have. This is a terrifyingly heavy burden for a sixteen-year-old to carry. Nonetheless, Augustus helps find joy in day to day living and she helps him in return. What I found so poignant was how hard Hazel tries to not hurt anyone and how useless she finds that effort to be. Living involves being with other people: affecting them and being affected. You can’t help but hurt people along the way no matter how hard you try. Hazel works toward understanding this throughout the book.
For all its good points, The Fault in Our Stars is not perfect. Most of the problems are plot related. While the characters are good, I found myself predicting nearly every turn in the plot up until the end. I will say I didn’t correctly call the end, but I was close. A simplistic plot isn’t the worst thing that could happen to a book, but it does prevent this one from being great fiction. It is great YA fiction, but not great fiction.
If you like YA, most definitely read this. If you don’t, you might give it a try anyway. I think it is worth your time.