The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green, was published in 2014 and later made into a movie. It tells the story of a teen dying of cancer, but it isn’t the average Young Adult novel. Green doesn’t talk down to his young audience, and actually inspires readers to learn more about the things he talks about.
Some critics say that Green’s teenage characters aren’t realistic enough, but in his world of fiction, they are real enough to deal with cancer, as teens in the real world do every day. Teens come from all walks of life, and these come from the mind of John Green. There doesn’t seem to be anything off-putting about the characters or circumstances. Would you say that about characters and situations in Shakespeare? Maybe you would, but it’s still literature, after all.
All of the characters ring true-to-life, from the parents ceasing to have their own lives as they devote them to their children, to cancer-stricken teenagers having to grow up too soon and realizing that they no longer care about unimportant things anymore—that time is short and should be enjoyed.
You may not ever think of teenage girls having cancer or needing to drag around an oxygen tank in order to breathe, or how this may affect her social life, or what she thinks about dying.
But this is one of those books, and Green takes you by the hand and leads you into this world of teenage romance between two ill teenagers with respect and intelligence. He doesn’t just throw a bunch of symptoms and tear-jerking moments at you. These moments are honestly earned, and often makes you wonder what you would do or how you would react in the same situation.
In spite of their mortality, they want and need to fall in love with each other, even though thoughts of futility and helplessness warn them not to. They do it because they can, just like other people do. In a way, they go with the “What have we got to lose” option, and it turns out beautifully. The phrase “Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” comes to mind, and aptly applies here.
If sick characters and themes of death make you feel uncomfortable, this book isn’t for you. But in this book, the theme of death can lead you to insightful and poignant passages that make you turn inward toward your thoughts.
This book does a good job of exploring the emotions of all of the characters and helping the audience understand what it’s like dealing with cancer and dying from everyone’s perspective. It can be a little down at times, but that’s to be expected, and it’s also leavened by some light moments that are typical adolescence.
By the end of the book, you will be moved in some way. You will either be saddened, or uplifted, or educated, but you, like the characters in any good book, will change and grow.
Sometimes it helps for ill people to read the trials and tribulations of people in their shoes, and this book is helpful in that way too. In broad terms, it deals with illness and death. In other terms, it deals with hope and triumph in the face of these things.
Sometimes the themes may be too mature for younger readers, say, under the age of 12, but if a 12-year-old should read it, the profanity will not be the compelling factors in the book. Anyone living with cancer or who has lost a loved one to cancer can relate to these situations, and for those who haven’t, it’s a good introduction. It makes you feel for anyone you know in a cancer ward, or whose facing impending death.
One thing I liked about the book is that the teenage dialogue rang true. Sometimes the talk was lofty and insightful, and other times it was scattered and impulsive. Thinking back, isn’t this the way it was when you were conversing as a teenager.
Even though there is a sex scene, it isn’t explicit, and is handled with maturity and intelligence. This is another thing I admire about Green’s writing. He could have left it out for fear of what parents or other sensitive readers would say, but went ahead and included it, since it’s about Young Adults, and for Young Adults, and sexual relations are a part of the human experience.
Even though this book is primarily aimed at young adults, it has an appeal that reaches adult audiences as well. This is the kind of book that adults wish they had read as a teenager, or would like to have read. Reading a Young Adult novel as an adult is often refreshing, and can help you stay connected to the young people in your life.
It’s always nice to see universal, sweeping themes like love and death wrapped up in a Shakespearean-like way, akin to Romeo and Juliet, and the similarities between this book and that play abound.
In a way, this book is like a support group for those who may be interested, or too afraid to look under the covers of cancer. It’s the same reason people look at car accidents when they pass by. We don’t want to look, but we do, because we are looking at our own mortality, a “What will death be like for me?” moment.
If anything, Green makes this potentially morose story a life-affirming one, because the characters prevail during life over their circumstances because they chose to love anyway.
I won’t be so trite as to say that this book makes you appreciate life, and people, and not take anything for granted. Because life isn’t like that, and real people aren’t either. We do waste time. We do take things for granted. We do make terrible mistakes and have bitter regrets. But most of us can think of positive things and people in our lives that outshine the negative, and that’s what Green does with his writing.
The ordinary characters finding themselves in unordinary circumstances is not a new thing in literature, but each author handles it differently. What helps this book stand out is the idiosyncrasies of the characters, their personality traits like humor, stuffiness, self-centeredness, etc. These aren’t perfect characters, and that makes them more endearing.
This may sound cliché to say, but Hazel, with her diagnosis and inevitable future, lives a life that is fuller than most of us do, and that’s another takeaway in the story.S
ome critics say that the plot is predictable, but come on, really? It’s about cancer. In reality, every cancer story is different, and so is this one. To pick on this book because you know how it will end is a little unfair. Some critics criticize just to stand out or be different. I’m not sure they really mean the things they say and do it for attention. It’s okay to say you don’t like a book. Yes, by all means, be honest. But don’t criticize for criticism’s sake. Say something a little, well, more…unpredictable. How would you prefer the characters to act? What other themes would you explore? It’s like saying you don’t like 50 Shades of Grey. Fine. I’m not crazy about it either. But tell us why.
Other critics say that the book is overrated, and has been successful because John Green is an established author. Since when do books have to have a small audience or appeal to be good? Popular books can be literary. There are a lot of literary devices in this book, and that’s one reason people like it.
Critics love giving YA novels a hard time. They under-estimate the intelligence of the YA reader, and lump the entire genre into a pile of undeserved criticism. Fairness means judging each book on its own merits. Most readers can make up their own minds about a book, and don’t need the roar of applause from other readers to pick one up.
Overall I would say this is a great YA novel for teens or audiences of any age, and the fact that the main characters are living with illness and facing death is, yes, a cornerstone of the book, but it’s also the vehicle that drives the other themes that are just as important—love, acceptance, understanding, hope, and curiosity.
The movie was well-received too, and I often like watching movies based on books, but rarely find one that sticks to the book exactly. Even Stephen King’s award-winning The Shining didn’t. Despite the critical acclaim and audience accolades, King wasn’t happy with the adaptation because it deviated so much from his book that he was driven to re-do The Shining as a two-part TV mini-series, which did adhere faithfully to the book. This made King happy, and purist Shining fans happy too.
As with any form of art or entertainment, The Fault in Our Stars should be approached with an open mind. There will be some who like it, some who dislike it, and some who don’t care one way or another.