The Fault In Our Stars faltered, but once, during its delicate unveiling of the unceasingly-defiant and terminally-ill teenage humanity.
Though I tend to avoid books about illness, organ transplants, or medical abnormalities, I elected to read John Green’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel simply to see if it was as good as everyone claimed.
The story follows teenager Hazel, who has been struggling with thyroid cancer since age 13. She is stagnantly unconsumed by her illness, fighting through the very essence of her self-hood for consideration as a being, and not a disease. Green writes her well, though she, at times, descends into some rather stereotypical teenage tropes.
But, she is only 16, and for being so young she is incredibly and believably deep.
During one of her support-group attendances, Hazel meets Augustus Waters, a 17-year-old amputee with an addiction to gracious flamboyance, metaphors and tragic-hero sacrifice.
The two pique each other’s interests immediately, and the story cascades from there.
If you haven’t read, or finished, the novel, please don’t click the “continue reading” section as there will be ample spoilers past that point.
But, before you depart, don’t hesitate to read the novel. Green writes each character nearly flawlessly, keeping the story poignantly realistic with a dusting of optimism to dull the reader’s masochistic pursuit.
Don’t let anyone spoil it for you, and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.
**CAUTION, SOME SPOILERS BEYOND THIS POINT**
Now, let’s discuss characterization.
I grew to love Hazel Grace much quicker than I thought I would.
As she phrased it “I fell in love the way you fall asleep; slowly, and then all at once.”
Hazel didn’t win me over because of her cynicism, realism, optimism or any of the isms. She won me over because she was human. She wasn’t a depiction of the ideal, ill teenager, or a glamorization of a cancer patient. She was painfully aware of her circumstances, and she didn’t want it any other way.
In her heart-wrenching scene meeting Van Houten, the alcoholic author, he unabashedly assails her saying “You are a side effect, of an evolutionary process that cares little for individual lives. You are a failed experiment in mutation.”
In response, Hazel thinks, “He was looking for the most hurtful way to tell the truth, but of course I already knew the truth.”
My favorite scene with Hazel was the moment she sacrificed her oxygen tank to walk through the airport metal detector, unencumbered. She says
“I felt a bodily sovereignty that I can’t really describe except to say that when I was a kid I used to have a really heavy backpack that I carried everywhere with all my books in it, and if I walked around with the backpack for long enough, when I took it off I felt like I was floating.”
This bravery and flagrant defiance of weakness is echoed again when she climbs the steps of the Anne Frank House, and nearly passing out, has her first kiss with Augustus.
Hazel is no martyr and she’ll make sure you know that. This isn’t really her story, after all.
The only issue I had with Hazel’s character was her quick-and-ready memorization of T.S. Eliot’s “The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock,” and William Carlos Williams’ “Red Wheelbarrow.” Though Hazel is written as being very well read, I found it a little hard to believe she had so many verses memorized and ready for recitation.
Nitpicking, yes, but there’s not much about Hazel to hate, honestly.
The other issue I had was with Hazel and Gus’s sex/love scene in Amsterdam, or “The Late Afternoon of the Venn Diagram.” I felt like it lacked emotional substance for both characters, especially as it would have been their first time.
I didn’t feel as immersed in this scene as I did with other parts of the book. Maybe that was Green’s way of keeping it privatized between the two of them, but it really detracted from the intimate relationship between the reader and the characters.
Otherwise, I was completely enamored with the vivacity of the novel. Van Houten’s motley of kaleidoscopically offensive language, Gus’s constant, yet subtle, self-sacrifice and Isaac’s consistent comic relief balances and paces the difficult themes of the novel.
The Fault in Our Stars certainly lives up to expectations and gracefully exceeds them. With a Goodreads rating of 4 stars and a personal rating of 4.3, I would certainly recommend this read to teenagers and adults alike.