Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Review: The Fault in our Stars by John Green

In One Line:  Teenage cancer sucks, ok? (especially when you’re super intelligent)

Genre: Romantic Tragi-Comedy

The Gist:

Hazel has terminal cancer, but due to a wonder-drug, is doing pretty ok at surviving. I mean, her lungs suck, but everyone has something, right? But what we do know, from the outset, is that Hazel hasn’t got that long to live, which means she spends most of her time trying not to get too close to anybody, because she wants to limit the number of casualties when her cancer time-bomb finally goes off. But this is a John Green novel, so you are pretty much guaranteed some great character-to-character sparks, and this comes in Augustus Waters, another Big C survivor who Hazel meets at support group. They fall in love, and when Augustus uses his ‘wish’ from a cancer charity to help Hazel meet a reclusive author in Amsterdam, Things Happen. 

The Cover:

I’m going to have to be honest, my gut reaction is definite HATE. But!!! I understand what’s going on here. Because it would have been so easy to have a cover comprised of two teens embracing in a dream-like haze, or a girl (with post-chemo hair) peering over a cliff or something. I mean, this is a story just begging for a cover-cliche. The publishers haven’t fallen for anything saccharine or romantic, which I appreciate and hugely approve of, but this cover just screams to me ‘let’s just plonk the title and author on there and make it quite blue’. I mean, it’s a John Green novel. There could be at least a tiny bit of poignant symbolism on there, right?

Another side note, which was pointed out at the Piccadilly book club and which I MUST bring your attention to, because it is frankly the most amazing observation ever: below is the US hardback cover. Notice the tiny smidgeon of blue between the black cloud and the white cloud? It’s gone on the UK paperback cover!!! I just love that there must have been a meeting somewhere where someone had to say “let’s get rid of that tiny weeny bit of blue, ok?” Granted, it was a fabulous decision to make, and kudos to the person who noticed, you know who you are!

The Good Points:
  • There is no point denying it. John Green is a fabulous writer. Possibly one of the greatest YA writers of our time. His tone is light and sparkling here, which means that instead of being conscious of reading, you feel like you’re just floating through his words. I read the book in two sittings, and really hated ever having to put it down. 
  • Feelings. There are going to be lots of them, and you have to know that they are coming from the mere premise of the book. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so nervous to start a book before, just because of all the Feels I was anticipating. 
  • All the character are brilliant. There isn’t anyone who is letting the side down, apart from maybe the assistant to Peter the Writer, who is probably just a narrative device. Of particular note is Isaac, Augustus’ soon-to-be-blind-from-cancer best friend, who is just a joy. I could have easily had a bit more of him actually. 
  • I was sort of doubtful that John Green could write a first-person female character, but I think he pretty much nails it. I mean, Hazel is actually written in this genderless way, but I suspect that that is what someone who is fiercely intelligent and dying of cancer would be like. 
The Not-So-Good Points:
  • I read this book straight after The Humans by Matt Haig, which I believe is out in May (review coming nearer publication date!). The Humans made me cry and feel really real in this horribly mortal way (the way only a really good book can) so when I came to The Fault in our Stars I was already pretty raw. I suspected that The Fault in our Stars would therefore turn me into a ridiculous puddle of feelings, but oddly, it didn’t. And I think that’s because The Humans resonated with me as something completely honest, and The Fault in our Stars felt like artifice. The Fault declares itself to be fiction in the author’s note, and as well as being a book about cancer it’s also a book about reading, so I felt a little removed from what was going on. In other words, I was really conscious that I was reading a work of fiction, and for that reason I didn’t open up emotionally to it (by comparison, I cried in The Humans because it really made me confront my own humanity). 
  • Did you guys ever watch Dawson’s Creek and were all like, ‘real kids don’t talk like that, but this is an AMAZING show’? Well The Fault in our Stars is a bit like that. I’ve never met young people who are able to articulate themselves in such an adult way (probably more than adult - I’m all grown up and I can’t articulate myself like the characters in this book!) and probably never will, but that doesn’t stop you from engaging. What I’m trying to say, is that if you’re looking for characters you can recognise for their brutal honesty and realism, you won’t find it here. 
  • There’s a book within a book thing going on here, a book that has the characters in this novel so obsessed that they journey to Amsterdam with Augustus’ wish to meet the author and find out what happens next. I feel like if this book within the book is so important, couldn’t it be a little better?
  • Because John Green declares to the reader from the outset that the book needs to be taken as FICTION, I kind of feel like I can’t criticise it, because anything I point out an imaginary Green just goes ‘but that doesn’t matter. It’s fiction’. Smooth move Green.
The Hypersomnia Test:

So the other morning I thought about having a nap, because I was tired, but I had Piccadilly book club in the evening and we were discussing The Fault, so I thought I might try and get a bit of reading done before the nap overtook me. I didn’t nap. I read this novel right through to the end without stopping. So basically this book might be the cure for Idiopathic Hypersomnia. Just saying. 

Final Verdict:

This one was always going to be a difficult read for me. I received my US hardback a year ago, and ordered it months before. In between the ordering and the receiving, not only did my Grandma develop Leukaemia, but my Grandpa (her husband) who had been living palliatively with cancer for a few years, rapidly deteriorated. They passed away last year, within four months of each other. One of the reasons my Grandpa went downhill so quickly was because he refused to wear his BiPapp machine at night, something that Hazel has to contend with in this novel. Reading The Fault was therefore never going to be an easy ride. But a year on, I read it, and I loved it. Not perhaps as much as I would have liked to, and I’m not entirely sure that it deserves the rapturous hype that it’s been getting, but this is still a wonderful novel. One that should be read by as many people as possible. 

Further Reading:

Before I Die by Jenny Downham
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver


  1. << I point out an imaginary Green just goes ‘but that doesn’t matter. It’s fiction’. Smooth move Green.>>

    That's not actually the reason he says that, the reason he says that is because he knew a girl called Esther who died of cancer two years and she was well known in Nerdfighteria. And obviously, though this book is inspired on her, it isn't based on her, and that's what he wanted to make clear.

  2. I have never read this book, but I will certainly do it in 2013. Heard by many that this is very good book:)

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