I feel prepared to make the argument that The Fault in Our Stars is not a young adult book. It’s a book about young adults. I think there are books, written for a young adult audience, or any particular audience, that are well-written enough and important enough that they become greater than their intended audience. So let’s say, this is a good book, with young adult characters.
I brought The Fault in Our Stars home from the library. I sat down on the couch to read. I didn’t get up until I finished reading it. And that isn’t because it’s an easy read or I’m a good reader or blah blah blah. It’s simply because this is an engaging and powerful story. I cared about the characters and I wanted to know what would happen.
The story is told from the perspective of Hazel, a 16-year-old girl whose cancer has been stopped but not cured. She meets a boy named Augustus Waters. I really don’t want to tell you anything else about the plot. The story is told as a retrospective but has a sort of immediacy that feels like Hazel is telling you about her life almost as she is living it.
The Fault in Our Stars is funnier than you’d think a book about teenagers with cancer could be. It’s sad too but it’s not a sad book. It’s a hopeful book rather than a tragedy, yet an entirely realistic one too. Green clearly takes this story, the lives of his characters, seriously. There is little attempt to romanticize cancer or those who suffer from it. One of the overarching messages of the novel (and there are a few, I think) is that cancer does not make saints. Dying of cancer (or, arguably, any disease) can be a long, lingering, painful, horrifying experience. And while death is something that each of us will face, not many of us have to face it at such a young age.
Really though, this is a love story. Not in a cheesy, Harlequin way or in an eye-rolling teen romance kind of way but in a “this is what falling in love is like” way. So often in books or movies where teenagers fall in love I am screaming in my head at them that love isn’t like that, that their expectations and relationships are totally unrealistic. The Fault in Our Stars knows that falling in love is really, truly amazing and terrifying, all mixed together. It’s the best thing that will ever happen to you and yet the moment you fall in love you are giving someone the power to hurt you, or you will be the one to hurt them. Hazel struggles with this in a way that I thought was really honest and realistic. I thought this little exchange between Hazel and a friend was perfect:
“Sometimes people don’t understand the promises they’re making when they make them,” I said.
Isaac shot me a look. “Right, of course. But you keep the promise anyway. That’s what love is. Love is keeping the promise anyway.”
I read that and thought, “That’s precisely what I think my marriage vows are.”
I’m impressed with John Green’s writing, which is deceptively simple. I’m equally impressed with the fact that he writes convincingly from the perspective of a teenage girl something, I’m assuming, he has never been. There is an element of Hazel and Augustus being just a little wittier, a little quicker with the smart responses than real people but, after all, the story is told from Hazel’s perspective. And isn’t that what we all sound like in our own heads?
Find out more about John Green at his website: johngreenbooks.com There’s a really interesting FAQ section where Green answers questions about the book. I would strongly recommend not reading these questions until you’ve read the book because they are full of spoilers.
Also, Green and his brother have a youtube channel where they are funny and nerdy.
I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.