Saturday, March 2, 2013

Review: The Fault In Our Stars by John Green ★★★

The Fault in Our Stars3.5 stars
Ok, so a little background, just to get a base point for some of my reactions to this book. In late 2010, I read Green's "Looking For Alaska". I ended up liking it more than I thought that I would, but for a long time I'd avoided it based on incorrect preconceived notions regarding what the book was about. It wasn't until I'd watched some of John and Hank Green's Vlogbrothers videos that I decided to go for it. And that made a difference. I could see John in the story - in the quirky intelligent teen characters, in the irreverence, and I liked it. After that, I bought "An Abundance of Katherines" & "Paper Towns", but I haven't read anything but their synopses yet.

So, flash-forward to present day. "The Fault In Our Stars" is chosen to be read among friends, and so I read it. And immediately, I'm struck again by the quirky intelligent teen characters, and the irreverence... But now, it's not so different, because now it seems like a pattern. A style. And that makes it less meaningful. When everyone is profoundly quirky and intelligent, it begins to seem a little trite.

So here again we have quirky intelligent characters, including a host of 16 year olds with ridiculously sophisticated vocabularies, and including an "extremely sophisticated twenty-five-year-old British socialite stuck inside a sixteen-year-old body in Indianapolis". These are midwest teenagers who sound like they're members of the Intelligentsia. Everything is profound and has "metaphorical resonance". It just didn't feel realistic to me.

Case in point: At one point there's correspondence with an author of a book that the main characters found profound, and I had a hard time differentiating between the voice of the Profound Author and the teens.

That shouldn't be the case. Ever. When one of the teens mentioned rhetorically whether the other thought they'd made up the Profound Author's letter, whether it sounded like something they'd come up with, I thought, "Yes!"

It's just too much for EVERYONE in these stories to be so quirky. Where are the average teens who just hang out with each other and don't use $10 words to say hi to each other? It was just unrealistic for me, especially in a book trying desperately to show that kids with cancer are just normal kids who shouldn't be treated deferentially just because they are sick. The problem here is that these weren't normal kids. These were extraordinary ones. Like everyone else. *sigh*

It took about half the book for this annoyance to peter out. It was like, at this point, the quirkiness and $10 conversations took a backseat to the story, finally. And that's when I really started to love it. Coincidence? I think not. Extraordinary characters are great and all, when, as a friend put it, they have "an ordinary background to shine against". I couldn't agree more.

I was far more affected and heartbroken by the simple, no-nonsense way that Hazel talked about her parents and how they were coping (or failing to cope) with her cancer prognosis than by her constant multi-syllabic conversations about the metaphorically resonant quality of... whatever.

There was a line near the end of the book that kind of summed this up perfectly:
"He wasn't perfect or anything. He wasn't your fairy-tale Prince Charming or whatever. He tried to be like that sometimes, but I liked him best when that stuff fell away."
I loved all the bits of this book that were in between all of the uber-profound stuff. The bits about loving and losing in terms of how much both hurt in stark terms of pure aching. Fancy words are fancy, but sometimes the beauty is in simplicity. When all the pretense fell away, and it was just two people wanting to spend as much time as they had left together, it became the story it always should have been.

This ended up being a moving and heartbreaking book, but I think it would have been a much better one had it been written more simply.

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  1. I never got to loving it. It always felt like the YA cancer novels I read at age 12-13, where everyone learns something profound but someone still dies. I was annoyed. And I loved An Abundance of Katherines...

  2. Well, count me among those people who really did love this book. It was my first book by John Greene, and I liked that his teens were intelligent and snarky in equal measure.

  3. Crowe, I love intelligent, quirky, unique characters, too... But I would have loved it more had it not felt like ALL of his characters fit that description. *shrug*

    I'm glad that you enjoyed it though. :) I do plan on reading the other books of his I have, so we'll see if my feelings hold true, or if I've gone off the mark. Always a possibility... ;)