The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book has gotten so much hype that I was prepared to hate it. Somewhat because the last John Green book I read was, quite frankly, "not for me." I know, I know, everyone on earth seems to bow down at the mention of his name. And that's part of what's kept me from reading more of his--the holier-than-thou attitude of *some* of his fans I've encountered. I see nothing wrong at all with being a passionate, even rabid, fan of an author. I troll my library website waiting for the audio edition of the latest books by Courtney Summers, Laurie Halse Anderson, Sara Zarr, etc. But I also don't think that anyone who doesn't like their books is some kind of micro-brained moron who obviously just doesn't 'get it'. Otherwise, of course I'd fall to my knees upon the mention of his name. I'm not saying all JG's fans are like this--my sister is a huge fan of his, and both my other sisters have read some of his books and liked them. I'm not a moron, and I get it. Trust me, I do. I just don't have to like it.
That said, TFIOS has been on my tentative list for a long time. I was just afraid to read it, because I was afraid I'd hate it, and then everyone would hate me. When I got the book and found out it was told from a female POV, I was almost sure I'd never make it past the first disc (audio edition). But, I was pleasantly surprised.
First off, the protagonist was pretty snarky, which can get old fast, but she walked that line just right, so she didn't get annoying (Bonus: the audio reader just rocks). I read a lot of reviews for this after reading it, because I wasn't sure what I wanted to say. A lot of them said Hazel was a flat character, though I can't say she ever felt flat to me. So she didn't have hobbies. Hello, she has cancer! I'm guessing that takes up a lot of time. Hobbies don't make a person have personality. I liked Hazel. And Gus. Sure, he was one more impossibly good-looking love interests in YA. But the missing leg kind of evens things out, so he didn't feel too perfect. Also, the fact that he tried so hard to be romantic that it felt scripted, and the fact that Hazel didn't fall all over herself when he went into unrealistic-for-a-seventeen-year-old romantic mode, made it bearable. I liked that his corny gestures made her uncomfortable. Sometimes I read romance novels (yes, this is a romance novel, whatever anyone may say) where the guy is so completely cheesy it's obvious that he's someone's fantasy of the perfect guy. I was glad that when Gus acted that way, Hazel didn't think he was being the perfect guy--she thought he was overdoing it (probably my own shortcoming that I roll my eyes at overdone romance, but it was nice to find someone else with the same lack of sentimentality in a book). Other characters: parents were nothing more than side notes, friends were pretty much nonexistent, Peter VH--wonderful, flawed, and the best character in the book, as well as the most real and realistic in my mind.
Which brings me round to my quarrel with the book--the unrealistic dialogue. To listen to these two talk--I'm a grown woman, and I'm fairly certain I have never in my life said the word "naught." As in, "It is all for naught!" So to hear a couple of teenagers speaking so gallantly was one of two things--completely ridiculous, if they just talked that way on a daily basis, or the basis for a completely unreal relationship. The way I saw this, the two of them spoke this way to put on airs. To amuse each other by waxing philosophical with over-the-top language. In which case, about 90% of their conversations were nothing but a mockery. I'm not saying people don't talk to each other this way, but when they do, it's in jest. ("My dear friend, your chariot awaits," I might say to my best friend, if I'm feeling goofy, while I open the door of my crappy old car. But that is a kind of joke, that makes up about 1% of our conversations. Not the basis of our relationship). For Hazel and Gus, it felt like most of their relationship was made up of this kind of goofy, meaningless conversation, even though they may have been talking about the meaning of life at the time--they did it in such a way that it seemed all their words were in jest, like they never got to know each other at all, certainly not well enough to love each other. The only other option, which I didn't even think up myself but read in several reviews, is that the characters themselves were just the author musing on deep thoughts behind the thin veneer of two sick kids, which is just a shameful thing to do. So I choose to believe it's the second option--the characters never really knew each other, because they were too busy being jokey about themselves and their cancerous lives.
I did feel a bit like the author was talking down to me, showing how clever he was, in this book, but not as much as in Looking for Alaska. Maybe he's matured and doesn't feel the need to parade his cleverness through each sentence, or maybe it's just because I listened to this instead of reading it so I didn't notice. Whatever the reason, I didn't feel like the author was showing off, which allowed me to pay attention to the characters instead. I enjoyed it more and actually felt the sadness of the characters (I felt nothing but relief to be through with such an unlikeable character after the death in LFA). So, at least I was able to feel what the author intended me to feel in this book. Whether this book portrays cancer correctly, I can't say, and I'm thankful for that. I'm sure it's an uglier thing than a romance novel is allowed to show. But my heart broke for these two kids, however unreal, both in their lives and deaths. My heart broke for them because there are real kids out there with cancer, and however they deal with it, they don't deserve such a fate in their stars.
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