Monday, 30 June 2014

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

 
The Fault in our Stars Film Review
 
Published: January 10th 2012 
Publisher: Dutton Books
Websites: Author’s Website, YouTube Channel (posts with his brother, Hank Green)

Introduction

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings." Julius Caesar Act 1, Scene 2

Hazel has always been terminal, even after a miracle that has prolonged her life by a few years. Now she is connected to an oxygen tank on wheels to help her lungs function. After displaying a cynical temperament and obsessing over the book An Imperial Affliction, her mother makes her attend Support Group. While she detests the charade that is Support Group, she meets Augustus Waters, and he gives her experiences she never thought she would be allowed to get.       
Originally, I was going to practice hype aversion and read this book when the hype had passed so I could get a clean perspective on it. Then I was asked to have a teen outing at the theatre to see the film, and the book was thrust upon me prematurely.

Story
            This story is, at its core, a teen romance with a touch more literary flare than the usual mainstream YA book. It is sad. It’s after your heart. It wants to break it. It wants to ruin your day, lift you up just a bit with romance you’ll never have, and throw you in a blender while it laughs.
            No hyperbole.
            Hazel and Augustus meet, fall in love, and bond over reading. Then they want to meet the reclusive author of Hazel’s favourite book to ask him how it ends after the book ends. During this time, you have to remember that both of them are cancer survivors, though Hazel is terminal.   

Characters
The main characters definitely are different, and I believe that most of that comes from their experiences in life. Having characters live with the cliché one foot in the grave attitude and are witty is a nice change of course for me. Hazel is so unbelievably smart and Augustus is so unbelievably amazing at planning dates and he’s charming with his outstanding charisma and he always knows what to do.
On the other hand, both Hazel and Augustus have know-it-all Enlightened attitudes. Their literary and philosophical references made me smile (and hell, made me feel smart), but I think if they were real people, you’d find them pretentious. This makes them both feel unrealistic. How many teenagers speak and think in long monologues? I assume because they have cancer they are supposed to have this wisdom that healthy people cannot acquire because they aren’t aware that they are dying (which I find silly, of course).
The other problem that I have is that Hazel and Augustus are too similar. Like she is Rosalind to his Robert. Their differences are slight and go mostly unnoticed.  
Peter Van Houten was by far my favourite character. Interestingly, I think that if Hazel and Augustus lived to be his age, they would probably end up like him: pretentious and egotistical curmudgeons. Also, he had a character arch! Hazel and Augustus had arches, but they felt a little unnatural and forced, maybe because their sicknesses drove them to it.
The parents I found to be mostly realistic. Augustus’s parents don’t want him to be alone with Hazel, and they have uplifting messages posted throughout their house. Hazel’s mom constantly hovers, and her dad cries easily, but they are unbelievably (near) perfect. They are a tad smothering, though I would be too if I were them. Minor Spoiler! However, there is a moment when they want her to stay home and I was stunned as to why, after trying to get her to leave the house, they would try to keep her home during such a crucial time. To me, that scene was forced by Green to make conflict and have another discussion about the future.   

Sick-lit
(The following is full of snark)
This term is being thrown around in conjunction with this book, though the term itself is nothing new. Some people have a problem with this genre, and they feel that it is exploitative to the YA audience (but not adults who read YA, I suppose, because adults don’t read YA?). Some people don’t want teens to read sad books (Diary of a Young Girl has been banned for being too depressing).  
            Their argument: If you’re terminal, you better be out changing the world, finding a cure, and not having a fun adventure with experiences. And you better not “come to terms” with your mortality, either! You better not be making the best of the time you have left, because you better not come to terms with having a limited time left.
            In a library setting, I am an open-minded person. It takes a lot for me to even consider pulling a book from the shelves (and I haven’t done it yet). So, there is no way I’d consider pulling The Fault in our Stars or other books in this sick-lit genre. If you’re telling teens, or children, or adults, that they cannot feel sad or acknowledge reality as it is, you’re telling them that they are inherently incapable of experiencing life and interpreting it for themselves. Then you get flocks of sheeple who don’t know how to think for themselves.
            While the characters are unbelievable in some respects, their plight isn’t. It’s sad. It doesn’t mean that we can’t read about it and develop empathy. Refusing to acknowledge these issues doesn’t make them any less relevant.      
            Further Reading: A YALSA article and a KYD article.

Final Verdict
Overall, it is a charming and insightful book about teenagers who are ill. Some people are up in arms against sick-lit right now, but don’t let that keep you from including it in your library and using it in teen book clubs! The characters are largely unrealistic, but if you’re looking for a tearjerker, then this is it. If you want a realistic book about teens with cancer, there are (probably) better out there, though I haven’t read any other YA books on the subject.        

SPOILERS!
Read at your own risk!

Rumours
1.      John Green has said that Hazel dies a year later.
a.       Nope, never happened, according to John Green.
2.      Hazel is pregnant.
a.       Nowhere does it say that she is. There isn’t even a hint at it. I am reading a lot of “BUT SHE HAD SEX!”. Despite what your abstinence only sex-ed high school program teaches you, sex does not automatically make you pregnant. If you don’t use protection, you might end up pregnant, but it’s not absolute (and just to be clear, you CAN misuse protection and end up pregnant too). There is a lot of fan fiction about this topic, and fan fiction is not canon, no matter how much you want it to be. Also, nobody in this book dies because they had sex.