Book chat: ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ by John Green

The Fault In Our StarsSo I finished John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars on Sunday. I bought it last week in anticipation of a long weekend away as a “treat” to myself, insofar as a book about kids with cancer can be a “treat.”

Also, despite loving my Kindle for years now, I still feel weird paying for e-books? I mostly read review copies or freebies or library loans. I guess that’s a terrible thing to admit . . . I mean, it’s just that they’re digital. Yes, I do pay for plenty of things I cannot physically hold, but I guess I’m just crotchety and still struggling to grasp the concept of paying real money for things that feel un-real.

Anyway. Clearly a post for another day.

The Fault In Our Stars has been on my radar for years due to its reputation as a tearjerker, I suppose. Sometimes I crave a good cry and don’t mind a depressing novel; they can be quite beautiful, after all. Plus, this is penned by Green, Great Lord of the Book/Young Adult World, and I’ve read and enjoyed several of his books. He’s darn witty and insightful.

Also, I saw him speak at the National Book Festival in 2012 . . . and yeah, he’s totally cute. Just feel that, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that.

Anyway. (Man, I’m a mess today.) Back to the actual book, friends. I have lots of thoughts about it, but . . . they’re scattered, disjointed. I went into this novel knowing it had been hyped into oblivion but is also loved fiercely by many readers — I mean, it’s been rated more than 1 million times on Goodreads.

One. Million. Times.

It’s hard to pick up a book you’ve heard so much about without rampant expectations. Like, for example, I expected to cry — a lot. I mean, the basic plot? Two teenage cancer survivors meet at a support group and fall in love. You know something ain’t going to end well, right? Even the title suggests it.

To my shock, I’ve managed to avoid spoilers all this time — no small feat given its 2012 publication date. And the accompanying movie released in June, which I’m now exceptionally eager to see.

So I won’t ruin it for you, either. Trust me.

But back to my Feelings. I loved Augustus because yeah, I think we’re supposed to. Almost engineered to. He’s cool, thoughtful, romantic, sweet . . . all attributes I typically love in a dude. Gus is also wise beyond his years — something that comes with having stared down death, I suppose — and utterly devoted to Hazel, our narrator, who is herself living with a cancer that actively decimates her lungs. Hazel requires constant oxygen delivered via a tank, her breathing shadow, and Gus accepts this.

Gus accepts her. And not just because her chopped-off locks and quiet confidence remind him of actress Natalie Portman.

Green’s tome is a story of life and death. Of life after death, and living well in the face of impending death. Though we all know we’re mortal beings, some of us must confront that fact much earlier than others. It’s awful, but it’s the truth. The subject matter is understandably heavy, and even in its buoyant moments — those sparkly moments of first love, as light as the champagne the two share — it’s there. The gravity weighing them down, the illness with its claws sunk deep into them both.

And yet, they love. They are. They will be.

The portrayal of Hazel’s parents, who are themselves fighting the good fight along with their daughter, also felt realistic and heartbreaking. Ditto the experiences of Augustus’ parents and the extended Waters clan. Even the peripheral characters — Isaac, a fellow cancer survivor who loses his sight; Hazel’s best friend, Kaitlyn, a fashionable and free teen who serves as her tenuous and final remaining link to the “healthy” and unbound world — serve a purpose and occasionally provide comedic relief.

There is so much in The Fault In Our Stars that felt both beautifully clear and unbelievably obtuse. I fluctuated between getting lost in Green’s deep thoughts and feeling completely discomfited by them. Our young lovers are both enamored with a fictional book called An Imperial Affliction, and learning the fate of its various characters via its alcoholic author in Amsterdam becomes an obsession for them.

I got it, but I didn’t always get it.

Still. Did I like The Fault In Our Stars? Absolutely. I’ve thought of little else since finishing. It was sad, yes — but also many things in between. I cried a little, but not as I expected to — and the finale wasn’t what I’d anticipated, either . . . in a good way? I think. It splintered me, but I’m still standing.

Though Augustus is obsessed with leaving a lasting mark on the world, The Fault In Our Stars is a powerful reminder that though our time here is limited, the impact we make on others — even if it’s merely one other — is more important. Lasting.

Love can only ever lead to suffering, to separation . . . but it’s worth it.

It has to be.

4 out of 5

Pub: 2012 • GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Digital review copy purchased by Meg


41 thoughts on “Book chat: ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ by John Green

  1. I just finished reading this book as well, sometimes I can be found crying at adverts so I was very shocked I hardly cried when reading this book. I think it was a good book it didn’t grip me but over all I really enjoyed the read

    • Totally understand! A good commercial (my goodness, THE TEARS) can set me off, so I expected to be a red-eyed mess in no time. But though I did tear up, I think the expectation of sadness kept me from really being sad, if that makes sense?

    • Agreed, Alison. While I’m really glad I read it and did ultimately enjoy it, I guess I was waiting for . . . more? I’m not even really sure.

  2. I loved this book. I think Green strips away a lot of the myth and distance that places cancer patients and others with serious and terminal illnesses at arms length from “healthy people” in society. His characters are all real people, whole people, who laugh and love and cry and watch America’s Next Top Model. They just happen to have cancer. Their illness is not who they are and I think that is just one of the incredible poignant messages this book conveys.

    • That’s an excellent point, Rachel, and I definitely agree: Green did a wonderful job creating fully-defined characters who are so much more than Teens With Cancer. I love when Hazel makes statements akin to having been too busy Having Cancer to interact with others, you know? There are so many realistic, heartbreaking moments like that.

        • Yes! I kept thinking how wild it was to have a female narrator written well by a male author — not something you see every day — and totally neglected to mention that in my review. Thanks for pointing it out.

      • For me, this was absolutely Green’s highest achievement with this book. People with cancer (or blindness, or aspergers or whatever) are still first and foremost individual people. For pure reading enjoyment though, he’ll be hard put to better Looking For Alaska, my favourite of his by a long mark.

  3. I’ve been unsure of whether I want to read this book or not for ages. I do, but after it’s been hyped up so much I’m worried that it would disappoint, (that coupled with the fact that I’ve not been as lucky as you in avoiding spoilers). After this review though I think I might give it a go!

    • I think it’s absolutely worth the read, Emily, but it is hard to separate a story’s hype from its reality. Because I knew so many people loved it and warned that it would “totally make me cry,” it was harder for me to engage? Which is funny, given that was the exact subject of the speech I saw Green give in 2012. Hmm.

  4. Really accurate review of this book, and very nicely written (love the line: “It splintered me, but I’m still standing.” I think it’s hard to respond genuinely to something that’s received so much hype, and I wonder if I would have liked it more or been more moved by it if I didn’t have so many expectations before reading it. Also, this storyline has been done so many times. As a side note, the NY premiere of this film was at my husband’s theater and the line of teens to get in was insane. It’s always a good thing when young people are inspired and moved by books, and teenagers are definitely enthralled with this one.

    • Happy to know I’m not alone, Jenn — I was a little worried folks would blast me because this wasn’t a 100 percent glowing review! And that’s too crazy about Vinny’s theater . . . totally believe it. Though I am woefully out-of-touch with the youths of today, the reaction of the crowd at that John Green speech I attended was more like seeing a rock star than an author. Pretty crazy. But definitely great to see kids reading, discussing and loving books!

  5. I read this book on the recommendation of my teenage daughter and I loved it and will admit I was one of the ones that cried whilst reading it. Also cried in the movie, even though I knew the story!
    You have written a good review.

    • Thanks, Suzanne! I have a hunch this is going to be one of those weird experiences where I actually like a movie better than a book. I’m so eager to see it!

  6. I love this review. I, too, have out this one off because you do have to be in a certain mindset to read what you know will be a depressing book, but my 14-year-old daughter picked up my copy from my to-read pile, finished in 2 days, and came into my room at 11:30 at night, knowing that I’m highly emotional and cry at books, movies, and sometimes commercials, even so, I was told I had to drop everything and read this book now! If that’s not a good recommendation, I don’t know what is.

    • What a great moment to share with your daughter, Kim — I hope to have similar experiences with my (future) literary kiddos someday! Definitely a great recommendation.

    • That tends to happen to me, too, but this was a thought-provoking read that definitely made an impact with me. I didn’t fall head-over-heels as others have seemed to, but it’s still a story I’m happy to have read!

  7. Very on-point review. I did cry my way through the book and really enjoyed (can you really enjoy a book about such a topic?) reading it, but I think I would have enjoyed it more I hadn’t heard so much hype. I haven’t seen the movie yet but hope to enjoy it just as much!

    • The hype can really crush a story, Kelly — but I’m still glad I managed to go into this one with a (mostly?) open mind. I’m so pumped for the movie now . . . it can’t be released soon enough!

  8. I feel lucky that I read this book a few years ago, before all the hype followed it. Going into it with no expectations other than knowing it’s a book about cancer and will no doubt make me cry (which isn’t a tall feat for me — I cry at everything) was wonderful. It let me experience the book without being influenced by others because it’s VERY hard for a book to meet such high expectations. I loved the book, but I also thought we were engineered a little too much to love Gus. I like seeing a guy with flaws but he just didn’t have any. He was a little too perfect for my liking.

    Great review though! 🙂

  9. I think I enjoyed your review more than I did the actual book. I, too, only read it recently and went into with high expectations (how can you not?) that just weren’t met.

    • It’s tough, Erin — those expectations can be really rough! Green has become an author I’ll read no matter what, but some of his works strike me more than others.

  10. This has been on my reading list for a long time now but I just haven’t pulled the trigger to read it yet. I tend to have this inverse reaction to popular/trendy books – the more hype the book gets the less I actually want to read it. You may have changed my mind, though…

    Also, I’m totally with you on the not paying for digital books thing. I treated myself to a Kindle for my birthday (one of the older ones so I wouldn’t be tempted by the many functions of the newer ones) but I only use it for freebies and library books. If something is not available from the library or otherwise borrow-able on the Kindle, I’d rather buy the hard copy version. I don’t feel bad about it, though – it’s the crotchety old folks like us who’ll keep the printed word alive!

    • That’s totally how I was with “Harry Potter,” Stephanie — the more everyone else seemed to wax philosophic about its awesomeness, the more I rolled my eyes. When I finally caved, though, I was so sucked in that I read the entire series in a summer . . . and have such fond memories of that time in my life! (Just before senior year of college. I was . . . definitely an adult.)

      I need to get better about borrowing e-books from my library! It’s such a cool service, but I tend to forget about it unless I’m there to pick up an audio.

  11. You seem to have loved the book. I have heard a good deal of good things about it but was still apprehensive about picking it up for some unknown reason…After this review, I think, that may change. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

  12. I really liked this book surprisingly more than I expected to. And weirdly – I barely cried for the book, and couldn’t even muster a tear for the movie. Let’s not talk about how I cried at the opening of… wait for it… Guardians of the Galaxy. I have no clue what is wrong with me.

  13. I liked the book as well, but I didn’t wind up flipping my lid over it. I think the hype overinflated my expectations.

    I like Green’s literary voice, and his ability to blend pathos and gallows humor without sounding trite. But I was never really sucked into the story. I was always aware that I was reading about characters on a page–I could not imagine Augustus or Hazel as being real people. I wanted to, but I just couldn’t get there. And as a result, I could never get emotionally invested in their respective journeys or in their journey together. The characters were amiable enough, but they were never fully realized in my eyes.

    Even still, I did like the book. I didn’t love it, but I liked it. I think I would have liked it rather more if my expectations hadn’t been built up quite so much.

  14. I think you have done such a great job capturing the conflicting emotions portrayed in this book. I read this a couple years ago and I think I felt many of the same emotions. I really enjoyed the book and the overall message that the message leaves us with.

    Plus, I can’t help but just love Green. I can’t help but see him behind the words and how much empathy he has. He seems to get so much of what I believe and what I want to see in the world. The fact that he can write all of that so perfectly is fascinating to me.

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