Monday, January 14, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

No.  John Green I refuse to let you manipulate my emotions.  I am in control of me; and will not yield to you.  I actively started not reading this book about a year ago when it first came out and I felt the world was telling me I had to read it immediately.  In addition to feeling like I was being commanded to read the book I learned what it was about and then attempted to put even greater distance between myself and the book.  As 2012 came to a close there were very few 'best of list' that featured fiction and didn't have The Fault in Our Stars listed.  After about three quarters of a year's worth of John Green anxiety and hearing about this particular book I read Paper Towns to scratch the itch.  A year later and Green is my favorite new-to-me author and here i am adding to the limitless talk about The Fault in Our Stars.  

It's a doomed young adult romance in which Hazel, the story's main character, has terminal cancer.  I can guarantee that if I hadn't already read Paper Towns I wouldn't have picked up this book.  It's sad and you have to sign up for that before you even start reading.  It's unexpected and poignant and certainly not the cancer book you may think it is.  (Green actually addressed the stigma of writing 'that cancer book' within the narrative.)   

Hazel meets her boyfriend, Augustus, at a cancer support group for teenagers and while the book's infrastructure is set to accommodate the most mopey, sad book about kids with various horrible cancers that is exactly not what we get.  Green is hilarious and while he never seeks to skirt the gravity of the subject matter his characters laugh at their condition just as they are assuredly terrified of their reality.  The story is very simple as we watch Hazel and Augustus' relationship develop in spite of a rapid health decline.   

Part of me felt that events moved too fast.  Nothing came across as rushed and while Green's writing is super easy to read the absurdly funny dialogue is balanced with some very substantial prose.  In the beginning, the scenario plot points seemed to move really quickly from point a to b.  Hazel breaks out of secluded depression mighty fast.  She turned into a moody social teenager with a quickness considering how she describes her life on the first page.  There were a few other points that felt a bit false to me, but nothing that was going to keep me from turning pages. 
I have this hangup with dialogue, readers of my blog may already be familiar with this gripe.  While it's not a 'chatty' book, and even though nearly everything said is funny, I did at times question what was being said.  Their words were never fake or too old for their age (though a couple times came close) and while super quick witty dialogue is great and a blast to read it's also not realistic.  I was okay with all the jokes (and the feeling that some characters had a few preloaded and waiting to go) and the responses they got, but some of the speeches Augustus made made me think, 'People don't talk like this.'  I understand his situation and how it would have to alter his view on many things, but it was almost as if he had thought out these lofty ideas and principles in advance and then was merely waiting for the perfect moment to pontificate.  Which, to me, cheapened some of his interaction with Hazel, as if she were just a prop to help him soapbox.  I felt Green perhaps indulged my complaint--if not thought the same thing--when during a conversation Hazel interrupts Augustus and he makes a joke about having memorized this speech and how important it was for her to not interrupt so he can get through it.  It was funny at the time that Augustus called himself out, but it also served to focus and highlight my 'people don't talk like this' gripe.  None of this comes off as poorly done and it took me a few days after finishing to put a finger on what was bothering me.   

If you have a pulse you should expect to fall apart when reading and though you can't be shocked at what happens there certainly is a huge surprise at the end.  It's funny.  It's fast.  It will even get you thinking.  (How many other books have 'existentially wrought free throws?')  In the future I will refrain from starting my new year in reading with a book that so many thought to be the best of the previous year; doing so sets the bar way too high. 

For another take on the same book, check out what Maria has to say. 


grace crawford said...

Lovely review, this expresses my love for this book so well! I agree, this book transcends genre and age and just speaks to people. I really want to re-read this too.

grace of Hunting Knives

Chad Hull said...

Thanks for taking the time to comment. Glad you liked it.