If Wonder is heart-warming, then The Fault in Our Stars is the exact opposite. I have never cried so hard while reading a book. Even now, a week later as I’m trying to write a review, just thinking about it I’m welling up a little bit. What makes The Fault in Our Stars so brilliant though, is that amid the heart-breaking unfairness of it all, it is still one of the most inspiring and life-affirming novels I’ve ever read. Even more so than Wonder, and I’m glad that I read them in the order that I did, because I don’t think that I’d have enjoyed them either as much the other way around.
Though Hazel, the protagonist of The Fault in Our Stars is a teenage girl with terminal cancer, it is emphatically not one of those stereotypical cancer stories we all know too well, and John Green goes out of his way to emphasise that fact. Hazel and Augustus are both inspiring young people for whom cancer is simply the defining part of their lives, they are not little angels. They are both fundamentally good people, but they are also just human beings trying to deal with a situation that most of us would find impossible to imagine. They are selfish, they can be bitter, and despite everything, they can just be bratty teenagers. When their friend Isaac is dumped by his girlfriend after losing his eyes to cancer, they take him to exact his revenge by introducing eggs to her car in one of the most hilarious scenes in the book.
Green also viciously deconstructs the tendency that people have of glorifying the dead, particularly teenagers. When Hazel visits the Facebook page memorialising Augustus’ ex-girlfriend, she finds hundreds of well-wishers referring to her as a sweet kid that touched everybody. Augustus however remembers her as somewhat cruel and razor-tongued, with a mean sense of humour, and though he thinks some of this can be attributed to the brain cancer she suffered from, he also partly thinks that’s just the way she was.
Though most of the story is focused on Hazel and Augustus, it also does a wonderful job of demonstrating how cancer, particularly in children, affects their families. The interactions between Hazel and her parents make for one of the most touching parent-child relationships I’ve ever seen in any medium, particularly when Hazel broaches the subject of what will happen to her parents ‘afterwards’. We also get to see first hand the different effects that the inevitable tragedy has on a parent. I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling the book, but Green’s characterisation is as phenomenal on this as it is for everyone else in the book.
It is worth pointing out at this point that the book was inspired by, and dedicated to, one of Green’s friends, Esther Earl. I think it does everyone a disservice to imagine that Hazel was based on Esther, but I definitely think that this friendship will have had a positive effect on his ability to really to get inside the head of a young girl in that situation, above and beyond his natural writing abilities.
As anyone that’s familiar with his role as a Vlogbrother, or the host of Crash Course will know, (and if you’re not, you absolutely should be) John Green is a very eloquent and quick-witted 30-something. If there is a fault with the novel, it’s that at times, Hazel and Augustus also sound like very eloquent and quick-witted 30-somethings. Being more mature than their ages would suggest is of course understandable, and part of it may be that they are both very self-confident characters, but it does, at times, feel as though they are more eloquent than they perhaps should be. It’s only a minor issue of course, and it doesn’t detract at all from the novel or the enjoyment of it, but I think it’s worth picking up on.
The Fault in Our Stars is very easy to read, but at the same time it is not ‘an easy read’. You won’t be able to just put it down and get on with your life, unless you have a heart of stone. The film is in the works, and though Green is not strictly involved, I’m told that the director has a good track record, and Shailene Woodley, who has been cast as Hazel was wonderful as Alex in The Descendants (which I’ve talked about before). So I’m optimistic about it, although since I tend to be more emotionally affected by visual media than literary works, I imagine I’ll be coming out of the cinema as a blubbering wreck. Which is of course a good thing!