The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Release Date: January 10, 2012
Genre: young adult fiction, heart break and despair, love and affirmation
Summary: Hazel Lancaster is depressed, spending her days watching reality TV marathons and avoiding interaction with others. Though you might be depressed too if you were dying. Hazel has Stage IV thyroid cancer, and despite a drug that keeps her alive, her prognosis has not changed. She’s terminal, so she’s entitled to some America’s Next Top Model.
Her mother, however, has other plans. She forces Hazel to attend a support group, held in a church basement with other kids who are in varied stages of cancer. These excursions are tortuous, and do little to help. This changes the day Augustus Waters rests his blue eyes on Hazel. What follows is a beautiful, funny, heartbreaking, and human look at these two teenagers who exist in the in-between.
The anticipation for this book started way back at LeakyCon, where The Katherine read us the first chapter aloud. It slowly built up over the months, with the cover being released, excerpts from the second chapter revealed. John Green’s sharpied face filled our monitors, a reminder of the signed copies that were somewhere waiting for us. It reached a fever pitch the week before its release. Preparations for the Tour de Nerdfighting filled our feeds, and people made memes of Rafiki presenting a copy of TFIOS to the African safari. Could this book possibly be everything we built it up to be?
The simple answer: Yes.
A suggestion: Get your tissues out now.
It’s been a while since I read a book that made me cry this much, or laugh this much. And I have never before read a book that made me laugh out loud while I was crying. As I would expect from any of John’s books, The Fault in Our Stars is funny, smart, ridiculous, and heartbreaking.
One thing I found interesting was how relatable the experiences of the characters became, despite being so far away from anything in my own life. I’ve experienced loss, but it has never been my constant reality. And I have no idea what it’s like to be dying (except, you know, at the usual rate).
The reason is pretty simple. It is very clear from the beginning of TFiOS that people with cancer are just people. They’re not better or worse than anyone else. If they’re braver, it’s because they have to be. I do think there is a tendency in fiction about sick people to idealize them in order to create a hopeful message. TFiOS operates in the realm of ideals only as much as the characters do themselves. There is a lot of meaning in the book, but none that I would call “the moral of the story.” To me, one of the most pervasive thoughts (I don’t know if I would call it a message) in TFiOS is that the only meaning in your life (or death) is the meaning you assign to it. Things don’t happen for a reason, and they don’t need to.
I love the humor that shines through much of the book, either from Hazel’s snarky observations or just the shenanigans the kids get up to. Hazel mentions being on anti-depressants, and she watches a lot of America’s Next Top Model instead of doing anything (sounds familiar…), but the narration is almost always bright and witty, or matter-of-fact. So when it does allow itself to be emotional you really, really feel it. To me, this makes it feel like Hazel is really telling me her story. It feels more true than if there were chapters and chapters of angst and more angst (although I’m sure she could fill them if she wanted to share).
And of course I loved her and Gus together, for similar reasons. I think it’s clear they are very intensely in love. I mean, they’re teenagers. But even feeling so much in a relationship, and knowing that you could lose the person you love quite easily, they’re normal and jokey with each other most of the time. Hazel herself points out that the most romantic times she shares with Gus are the times when they aren’t trying to be romantic. It’s adorable.
There’s a lot more I could talk about, but I think I’ve gone on too long already. In this book you’ll find life, death, hilarity, sadness, love and emo swing sets. I think it’s one of the truest stories I’ve ever read.
What can I say about The Fault in Our Stars? Well I guess first I’d just like to congratulate John Green on creating a book release frenzy that is the craziest thing I’ve seen since the last Harry Potter book came out. Or possibly crazier – I only needed ONE Harry Potter book. As we were all reminded a million times – John Green signed every copy of the first printing of this book. But not just that – he used various colors of sharpie, some had anglerfish that Hank drew beside the signature (and so were dubbed Hanklerfish), and some even would have Yetis drawn by Sarah. Oh the excitement!
I couldn’t wait though – I ordered a copy on my Kindle at midnight and stayed up and read the whole thing the moment it reached me through cyberspace. The next few days included my pre-ordered copy arriving, two pre-ordered copies arriving for Cassie-wa, and me finding TWO wild Hanklerfish in a Target in our very own town in Jersey. Then of course I’d be receiving a copy at the Tour de Nerfighting and I will be receiving an audiobook which comes with a rare unsigned copy. As you can see – we have a lot of copies of this book. Like seriously, I almost bought both those Hanklerfish copies in the Target also, but I restrained myself. John – you had us crazed and it was amazing.
Okay, now on to the actual book – this book is everything a book should be. It made me laugh out loud, it made me cry real tears, and overall it just made me feel ALL THE FEELINGS. As usual, John is so brilliant that I even forget that there are no zombies or demons at all in his books. His writing is just….it’s so damn good. I don’t have the words like he does to even describe it. It is just so REAL. This is what people are actually like! Hazel and Augustus are just absolutely amazing teens who battle cancer in such a real human way, not in a stupid lifetime movie way. Their lives are not movies where everything ends up okay. Hazel knows she is going to die from her cancer from the beginning, the question is only how much time she has left.
What I also love about Hazel is that I feel she is like me. Unlike Augustus, she does not have any grand plans to be famous, to have people remember her forever, to change the world. She likes to read and watch America’s Next Top Model. Incidentally – huge props to John for acknowledging that smart girls also love that stupid ass show so much. I love her relationship with Augustus, how hilarious their banter is, her struggle over not wanting to hurt him, and just how much they truly and honestly love each other. Again, not in some crazy lifetime teen movie way – but in a real life, honest way. It’s so freaking beautiful.
As John reminded us on tour – we are all going to die. At some point the sun will explode and there will no humans left to remember anyone for anything. So maybe being remembered forever isn’t such a great priority. But loving other people with the time you have is. Because it makes life so much more wonderful and so much better.
I don’t have much else to add. This book is absolutely incredible and I just love it. I am so thankful to John for giving it to us to have for our very own. Also, I just want to share my favorite line that makes me laugh so much – when Hazel says in her narrative, “…although I had a moral opposition to eating before dawn on the grounds that I was not a nineteenth-century Russian peasant fortifying myself for a day in the fields.”
Seriously, if you haven’t read this book yet – get on it. Also, it’ll be signed!
First things – I want to thank John Green for leaving out the young and charismatic but tragically alcoholic chaplain. Though, I can just imagine the snarky, pointed things Hazel would have to say about such a character.
So that’s what I want to talk about – I can imagine Hazel saying things that John Green didn’t write. I can imagine her hair sticking up in different directions, the sighs she gives her mom, the way she looks-while-pretending-not-to at Augustus Waters. These characters are astonishingly real, and the emotions created are genuine. After finishing the book, I of course cried like a baby. But the sadness would come back hours later; then days later; even now, almost a month after reading it, TFIOS hits me right in the prefrontal cortex. It feels like grief. But that’s not right; only boy wizards and district 12 tributes are allowed to kill me with their stories! Somehow, in about 300 pages, John Green made me love and care for these characters. It’s not from a sense of pity because they were ill and young and tragic. They are definitely young and sick, but tragic doesn’t fit the bill.
Hazel and Augustus are smart and questioning, fallible and romantic and moody and Jesus Christ are they funny. There are saucy Venn diagrams and blind jokes galore, but it’s all mixed in with this sadness and it MAKES YOU FEEL ALL THE FEELINGS. There are no gimmicks or pandering. This story transcends the pages and lodges itself right in your heart.
In a way, it’s not fair. John Green articulates these thoughts and beliefs that I’ve had, but in a far more beautiful way than I can. It makes me almost resentful, he’s so good. But then I read passages like this: “I’m in love with you, and I’m not in the business of denying myself the simple pleasure of saying true things. I’m in love with you, and I know that love is just a shout into the void, and that oblivion is inevitable, and that we’re all doomed and that there will come a day when all our labor has been returned to dust, and I know the sun will swallow the only earth we’ll ever have, and I am in love with you.” And how can I be anything but overwhelmingly glad that John Green managed to turn these feelings and ideas into beautiful words.
So in addition to cutting out the chaplain, I must also thank John Green for the gift of Hazel and Augustus, and for allowing us to share this little infinity.
Like being sad? Like crying torrents of tears? Enjoy railing against the unfairness of the world even though you’re reading about fictional characters? Then you would love The Fault in Our Stars!
In John Green’s newest young adult novel, he gifts us with a protagonist he’s never written before: A GIRL! Due to her functional though debilitating cancer, Hazel has a cynical outlook on life, full of dark humor.
Despite not himself being a woman (that I know of), John speaks extremely well in the voice of a woman. For one, Hazel was diagnosed with cancer and got her period on the same day… That’s rough buddy. Phrased in Hazel-speak, “Congratulations! You’re a woman. Now die.” That is not to say that John Green writing through a woman is all about periods and shoes and makeup, but as a woman I never thought once, a woman would never think that or do that or have that specific emotional reaction. But a woman would watch a marathon of “America’s Next Top Model,” we’ve all done it, inadvertently or not.
This success is most prevalent for me in the no frills way in which Hazel loses her virginity. She worries about such inconsequential things, like how her bra and underwear don’t match (which a girl would worry about but boys wouldn’t even notice) and the whole event is not met with trumpets or choirs of angels. I would personally like to thank John for not glamorizing losing your virginity like other authors might ::cough:: Stephenie Meyer ::cough::. As Hazel tells us, “no headboards were broken.”
A large portion of the plot is dedicated to Hazel’s favorite book, An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten, about a girl with cancer whose mother may or may not be marrying a con artist. To everyone’s consternation the book ends mid-sentence, symbolizing the sudden nature of death and how most people die with things unfinished. I was therefore worried that this novel would end mid-sentence and I rushed to the last page to make sure it at least had a period. No worries, IT DOES! Augustus Waters, Hazel’s love interest believes this goes against the unspoken contract between author and reader, and the two use his Make a Wish wish to go to Amsterdam so they can discuss what happen at the end of the novel with the reclusive author himself.
Augustus and Hazel as a couple are pretty damn adorable. This is mostly due in part to Augustus’ selfless nature. He goes above and beyond to make Hazel happy, such as taking her to Amsterdam, creating the all orange lunch to preface their trip, and helping her sell the unused swing set in her backyard. “Lonely, Vaguely Pedophilic Swing Set Needs Loving Home.”
I will admit that I cried at the end of this. I didn’t even cry when Dumbledore died. SPOILER ALERT! The finality of the novel’s ending is depressing because it reminds us of our own mortality. The novel is constantly reminding us of not only this, but that not even humankind as a species can live forever. My favorite moment at the TFIOS reading was John Green complaining that books with immortal characters are irreparably flawed because they don’t take into account the fact that the sun will one day explode. To that I say, “That’s why we’ll all start living in colonies on Jupiter.” Brilliant! A vampire story set on Jupiter after the explosion of the sun. Take that John Green, there’s my immortal contribution to society.
In closing: TEAM PHILLIP THE OXYGEN TANK!
WHAT WE LIKED MOST:
-Hazel, a snarky, smart girl after our own hearts
-Uproariously laughing while simultaneously bawling our eyes out
-The absolutely beautiful and realistic love between Hazel and Gus
-John Green’s respect for the characters as people, not illnesses
-FEELING ALL THE FEELINGS
WHAT WE LIKED LEAST:
-Having our hearts broken into approximately five thousand pieces
Join us next month when we review our February Bibliomantic Book Club Book: Battle Royale by Koushun Takami.