Who has heard of The Fault in Our Stars? No, not the movie, the book. Yes, there’s a book; it’s written by John Green. Who? He’s the guy with the YouTube channel vlogbrothers. Yes, him.
I read The Fault in Our Stars before the movie, before the hype and…I’m not sure why this particular book is so popular.
I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the book because I did…to an extent but I didn’t love it and cry over it. The problem for me were the characters.
If you’ve never heard of the book or the movie, it’s about Hazel Grace Lancaster who is forced into a cancer support group by her mother. There she meets Augustus Waters who also has cancer and they fall in love.
John Green wrote this book with the goal of showing readers that people who are dying are not “Other”. They are human beings just like the rest of us and they fall in love just like the rest of us. The premise sounds interesting and intriguing and I had high expectations for it.
There were a couple parts that I did like:
“You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world…but you do have some say in who hurts you. I like my choices.” -Augustus Waters
I think everyone can relate to this. It also ties in very closely to the title in the book: no matter how bad your fate is, you still retain some measure of control on your life and that is what matters.
Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.” -Peter van Houten
How ironic that the guy who said this quote which had millions of girls melt, turned out to be the biggest jerk in the world?
It all depends on what you do with your life, on what you choose to do with it. You can live up to 110 and feel like you wasted those 110 years. Or you can live up to 18 but still feel like you lived for 110 years.
“I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.” -Hazel Grace Lancaster
“Maybe ‘okay’ will be our ‘always'”
I really liked how the book highlights the notion that you don’t need all of that fancy-schmancy stuff to be ‘officially’ in love. All it takes are two people who are willing to take the risk of falling in love with each other. A simple love can be a beautiful one.
And now on to the characters.
We have the two main characters who are wise for their age. Who question the meaning of life, existential questions and so forth.
Okay, maybe it’s just me but what teenagers say that?
If this is supposed to paint a realistic picture of two teenagers in love, it’s not exactly doing a good job of it. All of the profound things that Augustus and Hazel say seem extremely rehearsed and pretentious. It’s like they had to spend hours on end to prepare for a single conversation with each other. I am not saying that it is impossible to have two teenagers who are extremely smart, but I just find it hard to believe.
You could argue that it’s because of their cancer that they have a different perspective on life but I can’t really accept that. The manner in which they talk raises them up on a pedestal, making them not exactly ‘human’. They should be people whom you can easily relate to, people you’d love to be friends with. I’d be quite frightened to be friends with them.
Character development is slight but it is there. Hazel and Gus know the odds are against them and both of them accept that from the beginning. Hazel, in fact, believes that she is a “grenade” and that is the reason for her unwillingness to be in love with Gus. It’s a little cliché because she doesn’t want to hurt him. The most significant character development occurs in Peter van Houten when he comes to Gus’s funeral and sends Hazel Gus’s letter. It’s a bit ambiguous but I’m fine with that. It leaves it up to the readers whether or not van Houten has changed.
The romance is also a bit difficult to believe due in part to the characters. I never got the feeling that they were really in love. It was more like a reading buddy/best friend relationship to me. And so when Gus died, I was sad, but I wasn’t bawling over it. I wasn’t ripping my heart out so that I wouldn’t feel the pain of losing Gus because I just couldn’t connect to their love.
The plot is interesting because it isn’t a cheesy, typical plotline. It was about two kids who wanted to meet their favourite author. It’s fresh and well-paced. There are interpersonal conflicts as demonstrated with Hazel’s struggle with her feelings. She doesn’t want to be in love with Gus because she knows that when she dies, all of her loved ones will be caught in the explosion. Her breakfast question concerning scrambled eggs are connected to her concern about being forever labelled “the cancer girl”. She doesn’t want to be another one of those Facebook pages which are made solely for the purpose of expressing shallow sympathy for those who have died of cancer. Gus was reduced to that when he died. The question then arises of whether or not you can truly escape your disease even after you died. Not many people know Gus that well and only know him as “the poor cancer kid” and to be honest, Hazel doesn’t know much about Gus either. Sure, he’s given her a forever within the few days she has, but she doesn’t really know Gus.
This book has so much promise. Unfortunately, the characters who are supposed to make me love the story, failed to do so. The lack of connection between reader and character hindered my ability to fully dive into Hazel and Gus’s experiences.
After all of my tirades against this book, I still do recommend it for the spare few who have not read it before. The themes about being human and what it is like to be a human being are skillfully written and deserve to be acknowledged. I wish I could love this book because the themes are very close to me but Hazel and Gus are merely characters on a page rather than the humans that they are supposed to portray.