Updated on March 10, 2015
It’s Throwback Thursday! As such, Fiction Friday is being moved up; I’m taking today as an opportunity to share a review from my old blog, Confessions of a Twirl. Take a gander!
I didn’t want to fall in love with Augustus Waters. As a matter of fact, I wanted to hate him, and The Fault in Our Stars as a whole. I was sure that it was destined to be another cult novel like Twilight: a book that I would read after rabid recommendation, only to to amused by it for a few chapters before being sorely disappointed.
Boy, did I ever get more than I bargained for.
I should have seen it coming. My sister, a high school English teacher, convinced me to read it. She read it in two sittings; I devoured it in one. I had to. It was too tragic and sweet to stop reading. At times, I thought I was going to burst from my heart swelling–or, at other times, breaking. I knew the ending from the start (they always kill the ones you love the most), but I had to keep going. But let me try to go in order.
John Green has somehow managed to hijack the voice of an intellectual adolescent girl for his own. The story has a surprising amount of genuine humor in it, despite the fact that the two protagonists face terminal illness. Perhaps the story is fictional, but it’s also true. Hazel Lancaster and Augustus Waters may not be factual human beings, but they are real people.
Let’s talk about these real people. It would have been easy to make Hazel an angsty cancer-kid with a victim complex who spends the entire novel whining about how she doesn’t deserve her fate. It might even be a justified response to her situation. But Hazel isn’t like that–even the slightly depressive Hazel that we meet on page one. No. Our Hazel is an intellectual spitfire with the nerve to put anybody, even a gorgeous guy she’s barely met, in their place. Her mental capacity is in no way impaired by her, as she dubs them, “crap lungs.”
And Augustus. Oh, Augustus. I wonder if Gus is aware of how smooth he is, with his “V for Vendetta Natalie Portman” and his “okay is BURSTING with sensuality” and his metaphorical not-smoking and existential free-throws and… and… you get the point. Augustus Waters has an incredible amount of game. He’s also loyal–to his friend Isaac, not just Hazel (Aside: Why can’t I grieve like a guy? Smashing trophies and egging cars is so much more cathartic than crying and eating ice cream). If we’re being honest, a guy has to be loyal to his friends before he knows how to be loyal to a woman, and Augustus proves that he can be both. Simultaneously.
I’ll stop gushing now and leave it at this: Augustus Waters is clearly designed to be every girl’s perfect boyfriend… except for that pesky cancer bit.
Call me a nerd (I am), but I just loved how they flirted by exchanging books. Augustus’s reaction to the end of An Imperial Affliction was so comical that I read it to my mom. All of their flirting is so cute that I seriously thought I was going to explode–but I’ll leave you with that one example, just to maintain a few surprises.
Many of the young adult novels that I’ve read define “true love” and “teenage hormone-induced lust” as virtually the same (horribly shallow) thing. But not this one. The terminal situation of the cast has forced them to mature beyond their sixteen-to-seventeen years, and their perception of what “true love” ought to look like (sorry Isaac, is it still too soon?) is no different. Isaac puts it this way:
Love is keeping the promise anyway.
Hazel agrees with him, and so do I. I could write an entire post about how wedding vows are promises that are not to be broken under any circumstances–“in sickness or in health.” I’ll spare you the rest, and least for now.
When you think about it, this book is kind of like Fiddler on the Roof: the first half is deceptively cheery, with flirting and joy and music and fluttery feelings. But then the pogrom (or, in this case, relapse) happens. Then there’s pain and loss and grieving. You’re left wondering what happened to the beautiful story you were just wrapped up in–and why you have to feel so cut up inside now.
I needed Gus’s funeral in order for my emotions to plateau. The book could have ended with his death, leaving us confused and grief-stricken, as real deaths do. But John Green was kind (read “not a total sadist”). He allows us to grieve with Hazel, just as we fell in love through her. Not only that, we’re given closure and hope in the end, unlike the unfinished sentence of An Imperial Affliction.
I’m the kind of monster who can’t cry at books, but there was one scene in this one that got a dry sob from me: Hazel’s father is speaking to her after the funeral. He’s talking about how unfair Augustus’s death is, how it’s “bullshit.” And then he tells Hazel that he loves her even more than all of that. (You’ll understand if you read it. Just trust me.)
Alright. Take a deep breath. Remind yourself it’s just a story, just a work of fiction.
Now, on to more mechanical (less emotional) matters. I found Green’s stylistic choice of vacillating between italics and capitals a bit jarring at first (I default to simply italicizing), but it grew on me. Humans, especially teenagers, have different levels of intensity and vocal inflection that need to be notated in different ways. The sentence,
Hazel GRACE… tell me you did not use your Wish on Disney World!
just couldn’t be written any other way without losing something.
Green uses a technique that many of us would do well to experiment with: the inclusion of script-dialogue in prose. He cuts to the chase, omitting all those pesky dialogue tags (he said, she screamed, I blurted) and simply tells us the most important bit–namely, who said what. (Sorry about the pun there. Couldn’t resist.) When executed properly, as here, it’s brilliant.
How do I conclude this review? The Fault in Our Stars (excellent Shakespearean name, by the way) consumed me; mind, body, and soul. It reminded me to appreciate what–and who–I have. I called my husband (then-fiancé) and cried after I finished; I almost made him promise to outlive me. It’s tragical and cathartic, witty and comical, beautifully written, and worth every ounce of heartache.