Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Book cover for The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Wow. I've seen a lot of reviews starting with that word, it's true. Except here I'm using it in a slightly different sense - Wow, I have never been so under-whelmed by a popular book. I didn't hate it exactly; it was readable enough and I managed to finish it. It's just that it seemed like any other generic child-with-cancer book, complete with fluffy romance, lack of realism and predictability.

Plot summary - Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 13, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

Looking at the reviews for The Fault in Our Stars on Amazon, I'm beginning to wonder if I read the wrong book. At the time I write this, there are 116 five star reviews and 9 four stars - the meagre six lower reviews are just complaints that a supposed signed edition arrived unsigned. I DO NOT UNDERSTAND THIS.

I've noticed a lot of reviews calling it 'brutal' and 'raw,' but for me it was the exact opposite - far too twee and annoyingly fluffy. The teenagers in the book have a completely unrealistic view of their own mortality and seemingly don't mind in the slightest bit. Everything's just too shiningly perfect. Yes yes, there is vomit and blood, but come on - a brutal book, vomit does not make.

I just wanted to smack Hazel by the end, cancer or no cancer. She is the most selfish, inconsiderate whiny little brat I've ever read about. She's ungrateful for her mother's attention and refuses to believe that anybody else in the entire world can be ill but herself. Halfway through I seriously considered making a list of everything she doesn't like but then I realised it would be far quicker to just scribble down the few things she does. They go on a free holiday and she complains that her dream destination, wait for it... looks too much like her dream destination. For God's SAKE.

   I just shook my head.
   "What?" he asked.
   "Your obsession with, like, dying for something or leaving behind some great sign of your heroism or whatever. It's just weird."
   "Everyone wants to lead an extraordinary life."
   "Not everyone," I said, unable to disguise my annoyance.
   "Are you mad?"
   "It's just," I said, and then couldn't finish my sentence. "Just," I said again. Between us flickered the candle. "It's really mean of you to say that the only lives that matter are the ones that are lived for something or die for something. That's a really mean thing to say to me."
   I felt like a little kid for some reason, and I took a bite of dessert to make it appear like it was not that big of a deal to me. "Sorry," he said. "I didn't mean it like that. I was just thinking about myself."
   "Yeah, you were," I said.
Just typing that quote out makes me furious. You'd be forgiven for thinking that she was lecturing some inconsiderate passer-by for a thoughtless comment about death. But no. Augustus, the other participant in the conversation, has cancer too. What right has she to demean his own views on life while insisting he respect her own!?

Augustus himself isn't so good either, although he's a lot less selfish and whiny than Hazel. I know she's supposed to be stupidly in love with him, but I don't see it. He's smarmy, amazingly pretentious and generally offensive, refusing to call her by the name she has told him she prefers (a la Christian Grey, actually). Oh oh, and the cigarette thing. Nobody does that. Nobody. It irks me.

And dear God, the ending. The fundamental point of The Fault in Our Stars is that Hazel is searching for something, a particular object that will make all her dreams come true. But then it's forgotten about. It's just not resolved in the slightest and it annoyed me how the 'grand finale' was about a completely different, irrelevant, plot point. ARGH.

Why does the dialogue occasionally morph into script form for no discernible reason? And should this really be marketed for children when it has gratuitous, thoughtless sex? I really didn't see that coming (Nor did she! *smirks*).

Despite my many many complaints, the prose itself is actually very good. It's descriptive without being overly so, and the narrative flows in a way that means you've read fifty pages before you even look up. I liked how John Green describes the smaller aspects of living with an illness that 'normal' people may not have thought of. I have never had cancer (*touches wood*) but I do have Lupus, which can be just as serious and I did nod and smile at a few points in the book.
   Much of my life had been devoted to trying not to cry in front of people who loved me, so I knew what Augustus was doing. You clench your teeth. You look up. You tell yourself that if they see you cry, it will hurt them, and you will be nothing but A Sadness in their lives, and you must not become a mere sadness, so you will not cry, and you say all of this to yourself while looking up at the ceiling, and then you swallow even though your throat does not want to close and you look at the person who loves you and smile.
I really did like the natural, conversational tone of most of the book. It was very easy to read and sucks you in into reading pretty much the whole damn thing. John Green is clearly a very talented writer, but the terrible plot, unlikeable characters and general tweeness meant that I really couldn't get on with this book at all.

What were your experiences with The Fault in Our Stars? Were they more positive than mine? 


  1. I haven't really read any of the gushy, 5 star, "raw and emotional" reviews, which is probably a good thing. Because I'd hurt myself with the eye rolling. I think I liked this more than you, because the humor and sarcasm in the dialogue made up for the generic story line. Snark can save a lot.

  2. I haven't read this one yet, mainly because with all of the gushing reviews I was worried I would end up feeling like you do right now! Great review - thanks for showing the other side :)

  3. I got this book a few months ago and as you just said, everyone seems to love it. I know what you mean by being far too unrealistic and too generic - I felt the same way about some other books with similarly big hype surrounding them. I'm really looking forward to reading it now! :)

  4. The hype around this book has had me avoiding it for awhile. I think I'm going to try a couple other John Green books first, and if I fall madly in love with his writing like everyone else then maybe I'll give it a go. Kinda glad to hear that you didn't like it though, makes me feel justified in waiting :-p

  5. I am pleased to see this review because it gives some much needed balance to the discussion about this book. I have seen many glowing reviews of it but held back reading it myself as I thought it sounded a bit tacky, I feel justified now!

  6. Well, you've definitely put me off this book! I'm definitely with you on the things you've pointed out, so... Hmmm. Hmm.

  7. I always have the fear that I'm not going to like a really popular book because it's been so hyped up...

  8. *Staggers backwards, nursing whiplash* Wow, this is the first bad review I've seen of this book... I'm almost glad I haven't succumbed and bought a copy yet! Every other review has been along the 'best book of the year' lines, so it's very refreshing to hear something different. Maybe I'll just wait and get it from the library. I might love it, I might hate it, but at least I won't have added another redundant book to my shelves along the way! :D

  9. Had to come and see what you wrote about it! I definitely agree with everything you said, although I think I came out the other end enjoying it a little more than you.

    The thing that really annoyed me about Hazel, which builds onto that quote you posted, is the idea that an extraordinary life is so unattainable. Augustus wants to make a mark because he knows his chances of living past 20 are basically zilch, but it's not like he believes he can cure cancer or end world hunger. The way he describes it he basically sounds like he wants to life a worthwhile life, where he didn't sit in a cave feeling sorry for himself, he actually took some risks or did something exciting/interesting. Which makes her so obnoxious for growling at him.

    The cigarette thing is RIDICULOUS!

  10. I actually had to Google, "The Fault in our Stars bad reviews" to make sure that I wasn't the only one who saw the lack of well everything in this book. I though there was something wrong with me. Even the cancer part is down played and wasn't really talked about as much as it could have been so that people who know nothing about it could understand it better. I did get all teary eyed at the end with Augustus' situation but I'm your typical female who likes happy endings.

  11. I haven't read any of John Green's books, but this one sounds AWESOME. Thanks for the great review!

    Marlene Detierro (Alaska Fishing Lodge)

  12. Most of John Green's books seem to lack intelligent likable characters. They are self-centered whiney people. Add to that dull plots and I refuse to read any more John Green books until he grows up a little.

    1. A-freakin-men to that *clinks and raises glass*

  13. I suspect this is the sort of book that people who haven't had serious conditions are going to like, as everything seems delightfully alien... but which those who have are going to hate, because the reality is so different.


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