Monday, May 19, 2014

Book Review: "The Fault In Our Stars" by John Green

If there is one novel that I am hearing plenty of discussion about on all mutual accounts, all of which being positive, it would be for John Green's The Fault In Our Stars. Surprising enough, it was not with this novel that I first processed his background, but instead through a vlog he conducted on YouTube during a literature club meeting at my college. A friend of mine put on a video with which he was analyzing Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet. I just remember the massive promotion of this novel to the point that I needed to check this out myself. Every reason to which this novel is receiving hype is justified. Every compliment this novel gets is well deserved. Sure, it does play out like a romantic film that deals with cancer patients and it's bound to have its tragedies, but it pokes at the inevitable cliches and there are comedic moments that come with the everyday characters of life. While the sexual encounters play out just like they would in a film, the kiss is somewhat unique in its own little way. I am almost positive that no matter what I say or do not say down below, you will be bound to pick up this novel for yourself, especially since the film comes out on June 6th (if you live in The Netherlands or Australia, it's a day early) and I will make absolutely no notion to stop you, but instead do the opposite and encourage you to fulfill your desire.

Hazel Grace Lancaster is sixteen years old and battling a thyroid cancer that has since spread into her lungs. This has required her to use an oxygen pump to help her breathe. Having been terminally ill since she was a teenager, her mother comes off as being very over the top and demanding of things falling perfectly in place for her daughter. She demands that she remain active by going to a cancer support group and is very compulsive about things being as perfect as possible. One cannot blame her for this, though, for this is a common trait among most parents with terminally ill children and one that cannot be objected. Her father is a bit more subtle, but he deeply cares for Hazel and is very much emotional, crying perhaps more than her mother. This is a first person account told by Hazel, so this really gives you a sense of direction as to where the story is going to go. Hazel is blunt and has a humorous wit to explaining her life, but in a coming to terms kind of way and not a "why me" approach. The cancer support group she attends at the church takes place in the center of a large cross, which is the at where Jesus' heart was. These sessions are led by a guy named Patrick, who survived testicular cancer, which Hazel explained as "cancer in his balls" and that during each meeting, he speaks of his "ball-lessness." Some of the attendees include Isaac, who had a cancer in his eyes that required them to be removed. He is in an over the top relationship with a girl named Monica, whom he is not afraid to publicly display his affection with and exchange the term "always" to, but she eventually leaves him after being unable to grasp his condition. Isaac is left bitter about this, but he begins to stray from such agitation as the novel progresses.

During a group session, Hazel meets Augustus Waters, who is known throughout most of the novel as "Gus." He is in remission from his bone cancer, but it has left him an amputee that has a prosthetic leg. Augustus attracts Hazel near immediate to the point that he invites her to his house to watch V for Vendetta. Augustus' parents are quite outgoing, quick-witted individuals. They have inspirational quotes all over the house and insist that he use the living room to watch the film. He wants to go into the basement, which they object to. When he makes the remark that he wants to show Hazel the basement, his father tells him that he can show her the basement, but he's watching the movie in the living room. Augustus caves in to the obvious parental guidance that is quite logical in an ideal society. The two have an excellent night and while they agree to simply have an easygoing friendship, things begin to catch pace as time goes on.

Hazel and Augustus get into a deep discussion, with which Hazel discusses her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten. Since the novel has to do with a dying cancer patient who is telling her story, it ends either when she dies or is too sick to write, thus the story about her mom, the Dutch Tulip Man, and Sisyphus the hamster are left unwritten. Peter Van Houten, who is from the Netherlands, eventually gets into contact after Hazel writes him on several occasions and mentions she would have to come in order to find out what happens, with fear that she is just another person that wants to make money off of him. She wants to go to Netherlands, but used her "wish" from the Genie Foundation (probably based off of the "Make-A-Wish Foundation") before her first miracle to go to Disney World. Augustus, however, has not used his wish and decides to share it with Hazel and make her dream come true.

Even though doctors comments and an episode make attempts to interfere with the trip, Hazel and Augustus are able to go with Hazel's mother. While Hazel's mother could have easily made this an awkward situation, Green is able to strategically allow the chemistry between Hazel and Augustus blossom by her mother fall asleep quickly and, when in Netherlands, have her do things during her own time. At the same time, she is there for Hazel when she feels immense concern. The use of Hazel's mother was just right. Hazel and Augustus get to meet Van Houten, but he turns out to be an alcoholic prick (putting it bluntly) during their visit. So much so that his assistant, outraged, chooses to resign and take them to the Anne Frank museum. What makes this trip so magical is not the encounter Hazel has with Van Houten, but the interaction she is able to have with Augustus and to greater depths. Van Houten eventually pops up and we get some kind of explanation about him, but he is still very much a caricature of "the author that is idolized by the protagonist, but ends up being a disappointment in real life." Of course, I would imagine and hope that most authors are not like this, it is just the way these characters are portrayed in written work.

The beginning moments of tragedy take place during the trip and it occurs in the way of a twist. That is all I will say about this topic at hand. What I will continue to say is that regardless of what happens within the moments toward the last so many chapters of the book, the moments of passion stick out even more. The note with which it finishes is one of true compassion in which one subject deeply loves another to the point they would do anything and everything to express their emotion. Love is always stronger than loss in the world of humanity and love cannot be stopped by loss among individuals that demonstrate this idea.

I am very glad I took the time to read this. I was wondering how much time it would take me to finish and it turns out that number was roughly three days, the last 150 pages were read within three hours. This novel shows true passion between a hard-nosed muscular cancer survival who turns out being such a softie to the girl he truly loves, who was very intellectual and a cancer patient for the last three years. John Green mentioned at the beginning of the book that this was just a story and was not inspired or connected to anything within his personal life. There is no need to analyze if anything is representative of something else, because this is a fine attempt at a love story between cancer patients that does not take a path of pity, but instead a path of wit. The word "like" is used improperly within conversation, but rightfully so, for that has become a word of connection within the American language (one I do not agree with, but still...).

To some, this may a tearjerker. It was not a tearjerker for me, but that is an area that is almost not touched upon to me. What matters most is that this novel kept my attention and grabbed me to the point that I wanted to and continued to read into the night. When you can do that, you have accomplished something. I am even more happy for John Green for building a reputation as a YouTube commentator and when he decided to release a novel, this was what he came out with. I give him a lot of credit for building his reputation on two fronts. Of course, this is going to be the bigger accomplishment, but a novel and other published works are incredible feats to possess.

Just a reminder, the film will be out on June 6th and will star Shailene Woodley as Hazel and Ansel Elgort as Augustus. In addition, Willem Dafoe will star as Peter Van Houten. Before you prepare to watch the film, however, I urge you to buy the book. You can get it at just about any bookstore that bears a goal of being accessible to human beings with non-used material. I will leave you the link to Amazon, though I would encourage you to take a ride to your nearest bookstore and search for this rightfully notable work of literature:

Verdict: 10/10

1 comment:

  1. Ack. Such a long review, lol. But amazing, Josh :) I'm so glad you liked The Fault in Our Stars! It's been more than a year since I last read it.. but I loved it so much. I think I must re-read it before I get to see the movie on June 13th :) Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts, Josh.