Wednesday, 26 February 2014

'The Fault in Our Stars' by John Green (2012)

Synopsis: Hazel Grace Lancaster is a 16 year old girl who has terminal cancer. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 thyroid cancer three years ago and is only alive because of an experimental drug that has bought her a few more years. As a result of the cancer Hazel had to drop out of high school and she can only breathe with the aid of an oxygen tank. Hazel's parents are worried that she's depressed and insist on her going to a local cancer support group. At first Hazel resents these meetings but she then meets a gorgeous boy called Augustus Waters whose cancer is in remission. Augustus is as attracted to Hazel as she is to him and they begin to spend more and more time together. They discuss life in general and their favourite films and books. They especially bond over Hazel's favourite book (which is about a young girl who is also dying of cancer) and spend a lot of time discussing what might have happened after the book's ending. Hazel is falling in love with Augustus but she also feels that she has to pull away from him. She's dying and she doesn't want her and Augustus to get so close that he's shattered by her death. But Augustus feels differently. He believes that his love for Hazel is bigger than the pain that he would feel at her death and he tries to convince Hazel to let these feelings of hers go. The Fault in Our Stars was borne out of John Green's own experiences of working as a chaplain at a hospital with terminally ill children.

I have an awful confession to make. I only found out about John Green through the hit web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. When I was trying to find out more about that show I discovered that one of its creators was Hank Green and that Hank Green is the younger brother of John Green, a best-selling YA novelist and YouTube vlogger. But of course as soon as I knew who John Green was I started seeing his books everywhere! How could I go for so long without knowing about him?!

I decided that I'd really quite like to read some of John Green's books and I figured it would be best to start with The Fault in Our Stars since there's a film adaptation of it that's due out later this year. Now that I've read The Fault in Our Stars I can say that I found it to be one of the most beautiful, moving and powerful books that I've ever read. I don't think the book is perfect but I absolutely loved it and I feel very confident that it's going to stay with me for a very long time. This book didn't leave me sobbing but there were many times when I was on the verge of tears.

Yes, The Fault in Our Stars is a contemporary teenage romance novel but it's also so much more than that. It has far more depth than the average YA novel and it raises some really meaningful and thought-provoking questions. John Green has also said that he didn't want The Fault in Our Stars to be a typical "cancer book". I've read various quotes from him where he talks about how he can't stand the way that cancer sufferers are usually portrayed in stories. With this book he wanted to show cancer sufferers as they really are - as ordinary human beings who are no braver or stronger or wiser than anyone else. You can really tell that The Fault in Our Stars is a very personal book for Green and he never sugar-coats or sanitises things.

For anyone who's now thinking that The Fault in Our Stars is surely the most depressing story of all time I have to say - it's really not! It's really funny in places and even - yes - fun! And John Green's writing is absolutely fantastic. His prose is so eloquent and beautiful and there are many wonderful quotes from it.

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. 

“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

“I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it - or my observation of it - is temporary?” 

Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful." 

“My thoughts are stars I can't fathom into constellations.”

I cared so much about Hazel and Augustus. They're not perfect characters. Hazel is sometimes rude to her parents and Augustus is pretentious at times. But I loved them. Sometimes I can read books where bad things happen to the main characters and I only feel sorry for them because I'd feel sorry for anyone in their situation. But with this book I felt sorry for Hazel and Augustus not just because of their situation but because I actually cared about them. Hazel is funny, clever, sarcastic and an engaging narrator. Apparently The Fault in Our Stars is John Green's first attempt at using a female narrator and I thought he did a amazing job writing Hazel. And Augustus, oh he's just adorable. He's just such a lovely and charming person.

The Fault in Our Stars isn't a perfect book. I won't give it away but the twist in this book is pretty obvious. I was actually spoiled about the twist but even if I hadn't been I think I would have seen it coming. Hazel and Augustus aren't exactly the most realistic teenagers that you'll ever encounter in fiction either. Both of them are much more mature and articulate than the average teenager but because I found them both so likeable that didn't really bother me. They still felt like real people. I wouldn't recommend The Fault in Our Stars to everyone either. I can very easily imagine that some who have been bereaved might find the book's subject matter too raw and painful. I think it could be an unhealthy trigger for some people. But I truly loved this book. It's fantastic and if all of Green's books are all of this level of quality then I think I'm well on my way to becoming a nerdfighter.

Rating: 5/5

P.S. John Green is a great vlogger too! I haven't seen all of his videos but I love his Book Recommendations post and his review of The Great Gatsby.


samara said...

Yay! I'm so glad you enjoyed it! [I have another friend reading it right now who is in the saddest parts and really upset that I recommended it to her :/ ]

I agree about the characters as teenagers - even "well, they seem older because they've faced cancer" has it's limits. And personally, I felt a slight lack in Hazel's growth as a character in a way that's hard to articulate. I guess I was hoping she'd grow less nihilistic. But overall - just incredible!

As they say in "Nerdfighteria," DFTBA ;)

Hannah said...

Oh dear, I HATE it when that happens! I've got friends to watch some of my favourite films with me in the past and they haven't enjoyed them. I got a friend to watch Star Wars with me once and she was really bored by it. It was SO depressing! How could anyone not love the lightsabers?! And chewy?! And the force?!

Hmm... I personally felt that Hazel did grow less nihilistic. She comes across as an atheist at the very beginning of the book but I got the impression that her conversations with Augustus and her dad left an impression on her and that she was more of an agnostic by the end. But maybe that's wishful thinking on my part.

Sarah said...

John Green is pretty awesome. I want to read this book just because he wrote it and I'm almost positive I would love his writing style. I don't like reading tearjerkers, but I don't know if this would qualify. It sounds like a typical sappy tearjerker from the premise, but your review makes it sound much better than that!

Hannah said...

I wouldn't call this book at all sappy, Sarah. My Mom loves watching sappy made-for-TV movies that always seem to have people dying of cancer so I think the difference :D