originally published on Goodreads in April 2012
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green is a difficult book to classify. On one hand, it’s a cancer book. This fact is as inescapable to a reader as the disease is for the characters. But to call it “a cancer book” somehow diminishes the work as a whole. At its core, The Fault In Our Stars is a novel about inevitability, about things that don’t last, and more than anything, about the things that do.
Hazel Grace Lancaster is the protagonist-cum-narrator, an astonishingly intelligent and terminally ill teenage college student whose view of life is necessarily colored by the fact of its brevity. For Hazel, the course of her illness and treatment means that she is effectively living on borrowed time. To a large degree this applies to most other characters as well, whom she meets regularly at a psychologist-mandated teen cancer support group. Her friend Isaac, for example, previously lost an eye to cancer and eventually loses the other. Augustus Waters, a newcomer to the group and the eventual object of Hazel’s unwilling affection, is three years in remission from osteosarcoma. Hazel herself, though in limbo due to the “miraculous” affects of an experimental fictional drug, is permanently fixed to a portable oxygen tank.
This real and accepted fact of death frees Green to break the tension and infect the book with much needed humor. Granted, it’s grim and morbid humor, but it is appropriate to the characters and nevertheless effective in maintaining a balance between heavy introspection and actual readability. Having accepted death for themselves, Hazel and her friends instead grapple with more existential crises: the durability of the marks they leave on the world and other people, the inevitability of oblivion, and the scars their inevitable and untimely passage might leave behind on the people they love. Not to mention the fact of living with obvious and pitiable disability, interacting with the well-intentioned though tactless masses. (The most surprising element of the book for me was its side theme of tolerance, specifically through the delicate balance of attention, inattention understanding, and the difficulties in relating on both sides.)
A New York Times bestselling and Michael L. Printz award winning author, Green is known both for his precocious characters and his accessibility and familiarity with his reading community. Both of these facets lay the foundations for one of this book’s most redeeming qualities. Green writes intelligent characters in an intelligent way. Unlike many Young Adult authors, rather than talking down to his audience, stooping down to what he perceives to be their level, he writes honestly and with the expectation that his teenage audience will rise to meet him.
And meet him they do; Green has built a passionate fan base that thrives on the challenges he sets them. Those fans catapulted The Fault In Our Stars to the top of Amazon’s charts before the book was even released. The title can now be found on the New York Times Bestseller list, Booklist, and even on the UK Bestseller charts, where he does not even have a publisher. In return for their dedication, or possibly in a moment of sheer marketing brilliance, he followed through on a promise to personally sign every single copy of the first printing. Signed copies can still be found on bookshelves at any major retailer.
The Fault In Our Stars, or TFIOS as Green has taken to calling it through his various social media channels, is both more and less than the sum of its parts. It is an intelligent, thoughtful and worthy addition to any Young Adult bookshelf. It defies the demographics of its genre, and is recommendable to adults as well as teenagers, making it a perfect book club, family or classroom selection despite or even because of its admittedly depressing subject matter. It does fall victim to a few pitfalls of its genre, namely predictability. I knew what the ending would be from about page six, though due to Green’s excellent characterization, knowing did not in any way dim the gut-wrenching and altogether transcendent quality of the ending.