I must confess, I hesitated when I approached The Fault in Our Stars in the book store the other day. I ventured in, naively telling myself that I was going to buy one book in exchange for not buying the dress I spotted for work. Alas, I am an addict and someone needs to plaster a poster of my face around all the local book-stores entreating their staff to ensure that I do not enter more than once a week and that I can’t leave with more than two books. Not sure why they would want to stop me/feel a sense of duty towards protecting my bank balance but I guess I’m optimistic about human nature.
So anyway, The Fault In Our Stars. So much hype around this one and so often with hype comes cynicism and disappointment. In case the hype hasn’t reached you, the Fault in Our Stars is a young adult novel by John Green – author of Looking for Alaska, among others. It tells the story of 16 year old cancer patient called Hazel, who unexpectedly falls in love with a boy in her support group. Sounds like a story we have heard before, but this particular story has reached #1 on the New York Times Best Seller list and has beaten all the heavy-weight adult writers to win TIME magazine’s #1 fiction book for 2012. Considering these accolades are nothing to sneeze at, I decided to give it a go.
Cancer and other illnesses that affects young people (or anyone for that matter) are truly awful. However, I feel like popular culture’s treatment of cancer has become pretty stock standard and clichéd I think we like to romanticise and idealise illness because if we can turn cancer survivors into poignant stories of bravery and strength in adversity etc. etc. we don’t have to feel scared and depressed. But that doesn’t really do the issue justice (as is highlighted in the novel – Hazel often refers to all the cancer stereotypes sufferers are supposed to adhere to). I was afraid I knew exactly how the novel would go and how I would feel about it, but I didn’t. This is why:
1. Stunning characterisation
The protagonist is someone who has accepted that her days her numbered. She is depressed and frustrated at times, but she is resigned. Hazel is also 100% realistic and relatable. Her voice is delightfully snarky and sarcastic. She just feels so familiar, reading her dialogue is like listening to a friend talk. Her thoughts and concerns reflect how I would imagine myself reacting in the same situation.
It’s not just Hazel, Augustus (her love interest), her parents and her friends all feel perfectly real. They could easily be people your own life. They’re not clichés – they are colourful and interesting and funny.
2. Clever plot arc
It’s difficult to discuss this point without *SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS AHOY*. Consider yourself warned. The main thing that Hazel worries about is the impact she has on the people who love her. She worries about how her family is coping with her illness and the prospect of her death. She is hesitant to embark on a romantic relationship with Augustus (who is cancer free and has a high chance of survival) because she feels she is an emotional ‘grenade’. She doesn’t want to let someone else love her because she knows they will have to suffer through losing her sooner rather than later. The clever thing about this book is, that it is Hazel who ends up losing someone rather than vice versa. And she discovers first hand that it is worth loving someone special for a limited time, even if it means more pain later. She proves herself wrong, learning that while suffering is inevitable, the most important thing is that we chose the people worth hurting for.
3. Satisfying ending
Usually these stories end with a) the death of the protagonist or b) the miraculous recovery of the protagonist. The Fault in Our Stars does neither. We don’t see the end of Hazel’s story because the novel only revolves around a snapshot in her life – the part that Augustus is in. The ending is about the conclusions that Hazel comes to after reflecting on the relationships in her life. We assume that she dies in the end (we know from page 1 that she is terminal) but that’s not something the book covers. It is realistic ending, not happy but not unduly tragic. The ending is satisfying, symmetrical – the sort that makes you sit quietly and think after you turn the last page.
So this one gets a thumbs up from me. Give it a go if you haven’t already.
I went to the support group for the same reason that I’d once allowed nurses with a mere eighteen months of graduate education to poison me with exotically named chemicals: I wanted to make my parents happy. There is only one thing in the world shittier than biting it from cancer when you’re sixteen, and that’s having a kid who bites it from cancer.