Publisher: Dutton Books, January 10, 2012
Review Date: 11/23/2012
By: Danielle Lucie
“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”
― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
You might know of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars because you are a nerd fighter (like us here at The Underground Treehouse), or it might be because it’s among the NYT Book Review of the 25 Notable Children’s Books of 2012. Perhaps until this review you have been living under a rock and haven’t heard of John Green’s The Fault in our Stars, but in any sense if you like to read you will love John Green! The Fault in Our Stars is his fourth solo book, others include: Looking for Alaska, An Abundance of Katherines, and Paper Towns. According to his Tumblr blog, the title for the book was inspired by William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar in which Cassius says to Brutus, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, /But in ourselves, that we are the underlings” . He also alludes to this in the novel when he writes, “My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations”. His books are commonly known for their great metaphors, awesome symbolism, and amazing attention to details. In one of his vlogs (Green is equally famous for his Vlog Brothers channel on Youtube featuring he and his brother Hank Green), John Green mentioned that he wanted to write a story about cancer from his time spent volunteering in hospitals. He wanted to write about the complexity of illness and from an adolescent’s perspective. Cancer is a disease that has affected all of us in one way or another. Green’s ability to capture emotions, thoughts, and compromises people make when faced with cancer and to encompass them in one novel, is a recipe for a true tearjerker (along with a few laughs).
Sixteen-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster is sassy, erudite, and poised— an old-soul kind of girl who is on an experimental drug to manage her stage four thyroid cancer. She befriends and falls in love with the non-smoking smoker, heart throb Augustus Waters who is overcoming osteosarcoma. Their love and deep conversations show the human side of illness. Cancer is hard to reconcile as it is cells that the body itself generates and then feeds on the host, weakening the body and often fatal. With already changing bodies, unrequited romances, awkward dates, brutal break-ups, and mountains of homework it seems unfair for teenagers to have to come to grips with their own mortalities. Hazel calls these people “marked” because they will never have a “normal” adolescence. Hazel’s ambivalent feelings about beginning and maintaining relationships with an illness only add to the realness of her character. One of my personal favorite things about John Green’s novels is his exceptional character development. All of his main characters are rich and display a lot of depth. Not one of his characters are ever portrayed as either “good” or “bad”. The protagonist is typically very complex and transparent at the same time; Hazel Grace is no exception. She embodies the youthful joy, vulnerability, and angst that most teenagers encumber, yet at the same time exudes this somber gratitude toward life that is rarely seen in any character.
Her favorite book is An Imperial Affliction by the great Peter Van Houten. Augustus who is entranced by Hazel’s curious and brilliant nature wants to take her to Amsterdam to meet Peter Van Houten, where they can experience their “own little infinite”. The ferocity and zest in which they live life raises the question of what it means to live. The title of the novel provokes the reader to toy with the idea of fate. Throughout the novel, the characters struggle with the idea of if their lifes are steered by chance or choice. Often times we as humans play the “What if” game. What if you only had one week left on Earth? What if you only had a day left with the person you loved most? For most people this is fun because it is imaginary. We don’t anticipate such dire circumstances to fall upon us. For those who have had to come to grips with this harrowing reality the innocence of it is diminished. The Fault in Our Stars beautifully illuminates the bad and good of cancer. It fleshes out the very best of a human’s ability to not just adapt but to thrive. While you have the lovely Hazel and charismatic Augustus, we get to see how disease plagues not just the individual but those who love them. One of the best things about this novel is that Green doesn’t leave any stones left unturned. You see how the character’s fear makes them act carelessly and irrationally. You hear their woes of injustice and worries about oblivion; as well as, the passionate, reckless, courage that comes with the “nothing left to lose” mentality.
Some critics have argued that John Green’s books all have the same storyline but after reading The Fault in Our Stars it is evident that this is not the case. His work is powerful and mesmerizing. He has a profound way of connecting all of the random thoughts that pass through the synapses of the cerebral cortex and weaves them into a tapestry of awesome. He is one of the few authors that is able to write in a way that resonates with teens while still reaching adult audiences. Green’s use of symbolism is brilliant and leaves the reader with many things to ponder—which only seems to expound by the fifth read through. If you don’t appreciate beautiful metaphors, rich characters, and intense plots then this probably isn’t a read for you; however, if so, then ensconce yourself in a cozy armchair with a box of tissues and prepare for your life to be changed.