A few quick additions before diving into this (this being the actual post, which was written and copied from MS Word, so fingers crossed the formatting doesn't get mangled in transition): since writing this, the The Fault in Our Stars movie has come out, and is doing pretty well at the box office. There were plenty of details omitted, but that's a focus for another post entirely. Moving along...
It’s May 26th, and I’m finally getting around to checking out The Fault in Our Stars. Partially because the movie will be out in June, which is practically here already. I’m mostly giving it a chance, however, because I’ve developed a semi-strong bias against it. I don’t really feel that’s fair, as all I have to go off of are quotes and Tumblr posts by John Green fans (neither of which are a particularly strong basis for an overall assessment of anything ever). This will be a (relatively short, I should hope) chronicle of my read-through of The Fault in Our Stars, which, to my good fortune, wouldn’t mean anything to John Green or his fans should they encounter it.
Let’s get first impressions out of the way now. I’m starting off, going into this, with the closest thing I can to a lack of bias. I want to point out how near-impossible this is, as the quotes I’ve seen feel terribly contrived. The word erudite keeps coming to mind, because I have an irrational dislike it as well; yes, it’s another way of saying something is highly intelligent, but it’s always had an additional connotation of smugness for me, and I’ve never been able to pinpoint why. As someone who has always taken pride in having an expansive vocabulary, I also can’t help but feel there’s a difference between careful, deliberate diction and turning a page into thesaurus-vomit.
The novel is written from the perspective of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a seventeen-year-old high school student, and there are times where some of the dialogue goes from “this seems like the believable voice of a seventeen-year-old high school student” to “this feels like someone wanted to make the narration really deep and thought-provoking, but ended up with bloated, pseudo-intellectual fluff”. Many of the characters seem to have a certain level of cleverness to them. Maybe I’m not remembering high school correctly, but what I do recall involves a lot of people who had a tremendous deal of difficulty stringing words together. The whole cigarette as a metaphor and putting the killing thing between your teeth but not giving it the power to do its killing thing (I’m doing some serious paraphrasing here because my Surface 2, with my Nook app, is elsewhere in the house) didn’t really read like anything any high school student I’ve ever encountered would’ve said, at least not while being serious.
Technically five days later (I finished reading after midnight going into May 31st, just in case anyone really wants to split hairs), I’ve completed reading The Fault in Our Stars. This is something I don’t do often, so it’s going to take a few deep breaths and a fair bit of self-loathing. My initial assessment of TFiOS (I hate acronyms, but I’m also lazy) was wrong, and I very much enjoyed it. Reading the last, say, hundred pages or so in a one-night binge-reading session is a testament to how much I got pulled into this book.
The narrative voices of each character felt right; even the lofty, contrived bits seemed like they belonged, and I may have had some flashbacks to points in high school when I said things like “My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations”. I cringed, of course, thinking about that, but it also forced me to make the concession that teenagers can come up with comments like the previously mentioned quote, contrived or otherwise.
TFiOS left me feeling emotionally exhausted for all the right reasons. That sounded a lot better and less masochistic in my head. I felt like I was on an actual, emotional journey with Hazel and Augustus, and all of the supporting cast, from about page twenty-five (when I resigned myself to the fact I actually enjoy this book) onwards. I am not ashamed to admit there were a few points where I got a bit misty-eyed, and one or two occasions when I nearly threw my Surface 2 through my bedroom window. That’s not an exaggeration, by the way; I had the poor tablet held aloft and ready to fly at one point.
Let me go on the record by saying I really wanted to hate TFiOS. Admittedly, I can’t think of a particularly strong reason for this intense dislike now. It was a pleasant deviation from my typical reading choices, which consist largely of fantasy, science-fiction, and humorous stories, and, like Hazel and Augustus with An Imperial Affliction, I was left wanting more. I still have some reservations about John Green, which is just as well because I can also imagine those reservations amount to a tremendous deal of nothing when compared to his rather impressive fan-base, the boatloads of cash he’s made off of his books (a feat I would love to someday mirror, of course, but the term “pipe dream” comes to mind rather strongly), and his various other accomplishments (such as TFiOS coming to theaters this June).
The Fault in Our Stars is certainly worth a read. Just be sure to have some tissues on hand, and resist any irrational urges to set the book on fire (or throw your e-reader out a window). The characters may have moments where they sound like they’re regurgitating SAT vocabulary, but it excels overall as an emotionally-stirring, beautifully written novel, and to skip over it for its Young Adult classification would be to miss out. I need to go hibernate for a month or two so as to recover from how TFiOS pulled my heart out and did some cruel, twisted steel-toed Irish river dancing on it.