Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Fault In Our Stars

By page 18 of this book, my Facebook status reflected my... annoyance. It said something a long the lines of this book being an embarrassment. I don't know if I was embarrassed for the characters, and their puberty, or the author and his small feet (as evidenced by his author pic).

First off, though the author is male, the main character (Hazel) is female, and the novel is written in first person POV. Call me sexist, or something, but - while it is a creative attempt - this shouldn't really happen. No boy-man can accurately portray the thoughts of a 16 year old girl. But it's interesting to watch his attempt, I suppose. Interesting in the sort of way watching a 10 month old child try to shove a square peg into a round hole is interesting.

Second, the book is very clearly a teen book. It's written for 16 year olds. 16 year old English major wanna-be's. (Why do we keep reading about these sort of people??) Maybe 18 year olds can identify. Personally, I find it difficult not only to identify but to tolerate the teenage love issues of the characters. It makes me feel old, but I think I started to forget what it was like to be a teenager the moment I got married. Subsequently, having a child erased all pity for teenagers from me. However, it did make me a bit nostalgic. Ah, to have a crush and get those butterflies when the phone rings and the caller ID shows his name.... But I digress. The characters try too hard, in typical young-author-trying-to-portray-teenagers teenage fashion. The book reeks of wit.

The wit of this book is a double edged sword, because the writing really IS good. I can't complain. It's the story itself that falls flat, partly because of the writing. No one in real life talks as beautifully as these kids do. Especially not men. Gus, Hazels cancer survivor boyfriend, is every girls dream and something that can never happen in reality.  So if you're going to talk like that, then you better back it up with some great STUFF. Dragons and witches and myth and lore. Like in the Vampire Diaries. Not a trip to Amsterdam. Not a space filler. (Speaking of filler: even though the book is over 300 pages long, I read it in a day - which is really amazing when you have an 8 month old. Something is wrong with that. Maybe it's the fact that there are about 12 words per page.)

You see, Gus and Hazel (who also has cancer, and is in a pretty bad state at this point) travel to Amsterdam to visit Hazels favorite author. Really, though, this side plot is merely a way to get Gus and Hazel into a more romantic setting, give them an opportunity to get laid. You could cut out the one million pages with huge margins Mr. Green wasted on this trip and the story really wouldn't be affected at all. Oh, except for us to learn that it isn't Hazel that is going to die, after all, but Gus. Because this makes it so much more tragic. It's of course best for the main character to go on living. That way we can see her post-death reaction. Feel her pain. Ball like a little baby.

Yes, this book made me cry uncontrollably. I'm hormonal. What can I say. I love things that make me cry, because it makes you remember the book/movie etc. You become invested in it, somehow. And in this particular book, the wasting away of Agustus Waters, sexy, muscular hunk, is pretty graphic and heartbreaking. So, for that, the book gets an extra thumbs up.

There is a part that I thought would resonate deeply with Panda, where Hazel explains that there are two types of books: those that you love and want everyone to read and adore, and those that are so special you can't bare the thought of anyone else reading them and knowing them. Panda is this way. Harry Potter is #1 to Panda. Twilight, in our youth, was #2 to Panda. (Funny how, now that we are older and wiser, Twilight really IS #2 to Panda, if you catch my drift.) I don't feel this way about books, or about anything for that matter. The more I love something, the more I want to share it, set it free. Except for my husband, so maybe there are a few exceptions...

I haven't read anything else by John Green. I don't know anyone who has. I hadn't even heard of the fellow before this. I don't keep up with the literary world, because I do what I want, and I read what I want *pouts*. So I wasn't aware that I had to worship Mr. Green and his small feet. I still don't worship him, even if he CAN write, but I would like to read one of his other books. Thanks to this blog and its schedule I probably won't be able to any time soon. So, thanks. I hope someone is at least reading this and making it worth my time.


First, OMG I talk about page 18 in my post too, Hel! Second, you are spot on about Twilight being #2 to me. ha ha. 

But now to my review... 

*Rubs forehead temples* *Rolls eyes* *Sighs heavily*

Now, OK, well, um…first off there’ll be SPOILERS in this post, but let’s face it. Hel and I are probably the last two people on the planet who haven’t read this novel. Practically everyone WHO CAN READ has read this book. Because it’s supposed to be like, the book of the year or something.

Since I have experienced nothing else by John Green (except his vlogs and videos), my opinion of his writing talent is based solely off of this book, The Fault in Our Stars.

And what is my opinion? It is this.

John Green is a very good writer. But he is not a good story teller.

Now, before you nerdfighters STONE ME TO DEATH, let me defend my statement. Remember, I’ve never read Looking for Alaska or A Plethora (or is it An Abundance? ) of Katherines so this opinion is based SOLELY from one book. And in said book, John’s story is poor.

Now, I know what this book means to the nerdfighter community. But since it’s made a couple of “Best Books of 2012” lists, let’s consider why it made those lists.

And if it should really be on them. 

Now, John does a fairly decent job using a girl’s POV. I’ll give him that. But his characters are unlikable because they are too likable. These characters are much too smart to be real – which they’re intended TO BE. The dialogue exchanged is so brilliant and clever that it became dull. John, I assume, intended to capture real life. But it didn’t much feel like it. This makes the characters flat – like watching cartoons. But I don’t think he meant them to come across as cartoons (Or did he?!?! – Cancer and death, the most depressing cartoon EVAH).

The first portion of the book was too quick-paced. Maybe John’s editors made him speed things up, but it made the story weaker. No one becomes instant friends like Gus and Hazel did. It was just awkward and made me roll my eyes.

I wanted their beautiful chemistry to die of cancer, if anything. 

And then, even though their relationship was rushed, it took me until page 98 to actually enjoy the plot. In fact, I would have stopped reading at about page, oh, let’s say 18 if I didn’t have to report back to this blog.  

See, John Green has a pretty famous name. It’s plastered everywhere in THE KINGDOM OF NERD-DOM. That’s what drove me to check out this book in the first place. But a story shouldn’t rest on your name alone (unless you’re J.K. Rowling and then the word “poop” on a page is the most brilliant piece ever written. No seriously. I’d pay to read that sh*t).

And can I just interject, right here, that I paid too much for this book? Even used! Honestly, people, John Green’s sold a sh*t ton of these things. You’re asking too much for them on Am@z0n. And even the new copies are still too expensive. The book may be 300 something pages, but have you SEEN the margins for this thing? This book could be read in a couple of hours. The word count alone barely makes it a novel, probably.

I know John didn’t really control things like the packaging, but I feel exploited as a reader (no wonder Barnes and Noble is tanking when they have to sell books like this. Maybe if they packaged books properly people could afford them and not be so bitter about their purchases, right? Right).

But on a positive note the points made about going to Disn3y W0rld (slash wasting your WISH on going there) made me very – and I do mean VERY – happy. Disney World (excuse me Dis3y W0rld – it’s a bad word in my book) is HELL. If there’s any message I want kids to get out of this novel, it’s this. DON’T WASTE YOUR WISH ON HELL.  

And let me just say (again) that no boy is like Augustus Waters. No boy. But now cancer boys are going to have a lot to live up to, I’m afraid, because every girl will now want a cancer boy. Every cancer boy, on first glance, will be Augustus Waters. This is not fair to them (the boys), unfortunately. Granted, it’s better than wanting a pale boy to be a vampire, I guess. (…God, I can’t believe I’m actually typing this. I’m a terrible person). But seriously. This is a romance novel for sheltered teens. Where Twilight is abstinence porn, this is cancer porn.

Now, back to page 98 (where I finally saw where the story was going). The love triangle set up has the third point represented by a dead girl. Which was interesting. Probably the most interesting part of this book. *Taps chin thoughtfully*

It was also around page 98 that I realized Hazel wasn’t going to die (that would be too obvious). But Gus would. And, yes, I was right. When they go to Amsterdam and Gus winces every time he’s touched, my guess was confirmed. And then I was disappointed in this story, because even this ‘twist’ was obvious. It had no surprise.  

And let’s talk about the Peter Van Houten character and scenes. At first, he’s just a (supposed) letter-writer and novelist to the main couple. He’s a deus ex machina (or however you spell it) and serves nothing else but to direct the plot. In fact, he’s the most unnecessary part to this WHOLE ENTIRE NOVEL. Not only are the scenes he’s in purposeless and poorly done, but his “face time” could have been cut all together.

Picture this: Hazel shares this great book she read with Gus. She tells Gus about a scene in the book set in Amsterdam that she’d love to visit – in order to feel like she’s living the book or to experience the book on another level. Whatever. The writer of said book doesn’t even need to exist. Maybe she can still want that sequel and Gus can still try to get it for her – WHATEVER. The point is, Van Houten as a character seemed forced and meaningless and any role he served could have been side-served by other characters and/or events.  

The only fathomable reason why he MIGHT have been “necessary” was so John could educate young readers that Authors of their novels are not GODS. Maybe John has felt pressured before by his audience like Hazel and Gus pressured Van Houten. Maybe he was hoping to break some kind of spell. But still, the anti-author-as-god message John *does* set up could have been tackled in a simpler way. Van Houten didn’t need to exist in the story AT ALL. In fact, it would have been more effective if he had told them to f—k off in his first letters to them. No need to have them (and therefore us) experience his awfulness face-to-face. He wasn’t really that awful. He was too poorly written to be awful. He was nothing.  

And picture this: After Gus dies, Peter could have later admitted to Hazel that his daughter had died (and therefore that’s why he’s got some sort of two-dimensional character development) through post or email. Or, his assistant could have admitted it for him just as well (again through post or email).

In my opinion, anything would have been better than what John Green did with the Van Houten sub-plot. The simple relationship between Hazel and Gus was enough. Why make it so freaking complicated by throwing Amsterdam and Van Houten in there? Even when they went to visit Anne Frank’s hideout I was so mentally fatigued as a reader. Yes, going to Amsterdam let Hazel gain a new piece of enlightenment about life and death – but COME ON. Yes, Anne Frank’s story is sad. But I only think John Green used it because it was something iconic young readers would recognize. There has GOT to be a simpler place for them to go and be enlightened and to HAVE SEX.

…And now I know why I’m angry that John got a grant from the Dutch Literature Foundation to spend time there and write (see the Acknowledgement section). No wonder Anne Frank made it into the book.  He felt obligated to force-feed us the same old World War II stuff as if it applies to everything (It might, but I can’t help but feel like he exploited his own story just because he won this grant). I mean WHY bring it all back to World War II? Not every evil is tied to Nazis. Nazis are not necessarily equal to cancer (maybe metaphorically, but I don't want to go down that road). 

And my Anne Frank/WWII tangent only backs up my beef with the Van Houten sub-plot. The Anne Frank museum was more meaningful to the story than Van Houten. Why did Hazel have to have an obsession with his book – why not just…Anne Frank? Anne Frank would have been a perfect – and SIMPLE – reason to bring them to Amsterdam. Even though it didn’t HAVE TO BE Amsterdam.


It kinda makes Green seem like a sellout – even though I don’t know how much of the book depended on his grant or not. But I still think it’s ridiculous. This book isn’t about Dutch literature. It’s about cancer. It’s about life and death. Yes, I can see how poor Anne Frank ties into it all but… The knots that he tied are pretty sloppy.

A positive aspect of this book is that it’s a good introduction to “Otherness.” The otherness is non-racial and non-gendered (Hazel and Gus are not and cannot be the stereotypical teens), so I can see it breaking the ice to bigger “Otherness” issues. I also respected how this book might help me handle illness later on in my life experiences. I’ve never (thank God) had to half-live in a hospital with family members, so I had no idea.

I still cried at the end of this book. But only because I know life isn’t fair in a lot of ways – not because the story itself was moving. I definitely want most teens to read this, rather than some of the other crap that’s out there. But I don’t think I can respect anyone who blindly accepts this as some great novel or whatnot. The plot is too poor.

Usually when a book can make me cry, I say “it wins” (I’m a very heartless person, you see. It takes a writer of great skill to move me). But I don’t think the book made me cry. The book sparked memories and ideas. Those things are what made me cry.

You lose, TFIOS. You lose.


And P.S. My opinion of this article (mentioned by John Green himself) is this: How dare it defend TFIOS while also knocking other genres? Sure, “not all young adults crave a literary diet of wizards and vampires” but is there something wrong if they do? And do note, sometimes they crave BOTH books like Harry Potter and TFIOS. Seriously, that shouldn’t be your article's selling point. It puts me in defensive mode. I understand what this article was trying to do but let’s not forget WHY we love John Green (and will therefore read his books). He’s pretty big in the HP community too. DFTBA. 

P.P.S. Next up is "All the Pretty horses"!

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