Synopsis: When 16 year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster first meets Augustus Waters at a support group for “cancer kids,” she is terminally ill, clinically depressed and obsessed with her favorite novel, An Imperial Affliction. But as fate would have it, Augustus Waters is a kindred spirit of sorts, full of the kind of irreverence and humor that makes one smile in spite of the grim circumstances that dominate this world. So when the two set out to explore a relationship that will be measured in “days and weeks” – not years – they do so with a kind of raw honesty that is as charming as it is elusive and rare.
Review: John Green writes books for young adults. But his books are so deftly constructed with such a light and unobtrusive touch that any such categorization almost comes off as demeaning. There is a difference between writing for an audience and writing down to an audience – a difference that Green seems to intuitively understand. So whereas many other authors might be tempted to dumb down the material or soften the dark, jagged edges of cancer, Green dares to challenge his readers to rise by asking the kinds of massive questions that we will all ultimately face. What will my legacy be if I have accomplished nothing in this life? Am I defined by what I have done? Will anyone remember me as anything more than the disease that ultimately took my life? Is there something larger awaiting me upon my death, or is oblivion all I can hope for?
With that being said, The Fault in Our Stars is not a flawless novel. In addition to introducing a completely unnecessary plot-line that is highly implausible (to say the least!), Green also fails to provide any kind of substantive answers to the questions that he clearly wants to explore. As a thoroughly post-modern author, the best he can point to is a belief in a “capital S – Something” and a belief in the power of “love.” But ill-defined nods in the direction of theism are of no use to those desperately searching for answers as to what lies beyond this life. Moreover, “love” is not an answer to the question of purpose in the face of real suffering.
So while The Fault in Our Stars is ultimately a charming book that is well worth the time it takes to read it, don’t go in expecting any real insight into the meaning of life. Instead, simply accept the age-old axiom that good literature is best at asking questions; and content yourself with enjoying some time spent with these remarkably quirky and wonderful characters.
One final note for those concerned about “content.” When The Fault in Our Stars is made into a film (due later this year), I suspect it will be rated PG-13 for language and sexuality.
Opening Words: “Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death. Whenever you read a cancer booklet or website or whatever, they always list depression among the side effects of cancer. But, in fact, depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying.”
Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green
Category: Fiction, Young Adult
Length: 318 pages
Publication Date: January 2012