If today’s book doesn’t make you cry, you can’t convince me you have a soul. This is Five Minute Books.
Each week I alternate reviews between Amazon’s number one bestseller and independent books of my own choosing. This week I’m reviewing The Fault In Our Stars, a bestseller by John Green. Fear not, this review will be spoiler free.
The Fault In Our Stars, or TFiOS as it’s affectionately known by its loyal fan base, tells the story of Hazel Grace, a teenager with terminal cancer. In the first chapter she meets Augustus, whose own cancer is in remission. Hazel requires constant oxygen because, as she says, “Her lungs suck at being lungs,” while Augustus lost his leg in his fight to conquer the disease.
The two of them immediately feel a magnetic attraction and swiftly fall in love, sharing discussions about life and philosophy, literature, art, and the nature of infinity. In particular they become obsessed with An Imperial Affliction, a novel about a teenage cancer victim by the mysterious Peter Van Houten, who long ago retired to the Netherlands. In an act of supreme douchebaggery, or brilliance, depending on who you ask, Van Houten didn’t really end his novel, interrupting it mid-sentence on the last page to indicate that the main character passed away.
It’s a bold statement about the nature of death and how it isn’t all wrapped up in the end, which Hazel and Augustus understand. But while that’s very deep and meaningful and Hazel and Augustus completely understand the message, Hazel has been obsessed with finding out what happened to the other characters after the novel’s last page.
After some unsatisfying correspondence with Van Houten, they decide to seek him out in the Netherlands to get their answers.
This story carried deeper significance to me than merely two star-crossed lovers brought together by their maladies. My father is a cancer survivor twice, and I lost my mother to breast cancer three years ago. So with that in mind, this book had moments that were difficult to get through.
But as someone with personal experience, I can say that the depiction of cancer victims in TFiOS is excellently done. Cancer changes everything about your life except for the fact that, like the rest of us, you still have to live it. It’s actually incorrect of us to describe people as cancer victims, because those are two words that do not define them. They are people who have cancer. That word “people” comes first. They are just like the rest of us in that they have hopes and dreams and fears and faults, and they just also happen to have this incredibly terrible disease.
Like any major life experience, cancer shapes the way that Hazel and Gus see the world, but it doesn’t define them as people. They are who they are for the same reasons as the rest of us—the way and place they were raised, the things they’ve seen and done, and the thoughts they’ve had about life.
This is summed up best by their relationship. Hazel is not in love with Augustus because he, like her, has cancer. She falls in love with him because he is beautiful, inside and out, and their personalities mesh in a way she’s never experienced before. His cancer has nothing to do with it, other than the fact that it’s something they can both relate to.
In the story, their illness does double time as a plot device. For the average American teenager, a spur-of-the-moment romantic trip to the Netherlands simply isn’t feasible, but Hazel and Augustus are able to do it because of an organization similar to the “Make a Wish” foundation. In this way, John Green provided a believable solution to a problem that would otherwise require some sort of eye-rolling deus ex machina moment.
A note on writing style: this was my first John Green book, and as I flipped through the editorial reviews in the beginning, there was a comment from E. Lockhart stating, and I quote, “John Green is one of the best writers alive.” And I was like, “Psssh. Yeah. Okay.”
After reading the book, he might not be wrong.
Another brief note about dialogue: in my review of Divergent I complained about how the teenagers would randomly spout philosophy incongruent with their general dialogue.
In TFiOS, Hazel and Augustus are veritable philosophical machines, but it works because we see that the disease has turned their attention inward, and they’ve spent a lot of time thinking about life, death, the universe and everything.
I debated my rating on this book. Five stars means I would recommend it to anyone without question, but due to its emotional content I wondered if I would actually do that, considering how many of us have lost people to this disease.
But in the end, it was just too damn good. I give The Fault in Our Stars five stars out of five.
No book I’ve read in the last decade has had this much of an emotional impact on me or done so much to communicate the reality of the terminally ill.
The nature of my five-minute book reviews means I can’t possibly do it justice within this review, so in summary I can only say that this book is important to all of us, not just those who are suffering from cancer, but those who are suffering from the other great side effect of death: life.
Thanks for visiting. As always, you can purchase this book, and I certainly hope you do, by clicking on the cover, which will take you to the Amazon bookstore through an affiliate link that helps fund the show.
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