The Fault In Our Stars by John Green. Dutton Books, 2012. Currently available.
It’s another Slatebreakers joint review! We “live reviewed” from the The Fault In Our Stars tour stop in Phoenix and tested the friendly waters of the Nerdfighter community.
Genre: YA Realistic Fiction
Face Value: Brianna: Oh yeah, it’s good. It’s bold. It’s stark. It doesn’t pander to either boy or girl readers, but has universal shelf appeal. John Green himself got pretty worked up about the cover – enough to make himself dizzy in a spinny chair:
I don’t confess to know anything about the Nerdfighter movement as I don’t usually follow John Green’s online presence, but I think that the way he mobilized fans to create covers for the book is pretty great. And now his publisher is allowing him to have a fan-created cover contest for a new edition of An Abundance of Katherines, which is awesome. Hopefully this fan created cover art will not fall into the awful cover traps that plague the world of YA publishing.
Does it break the slate? Sarah: Yes! Hazel is absolutely a Slatebreaker. She is self-aware and smart and thoughtful and cynical and funny. Spending her whole teenagerhood fighting cancer with a terminal diagnosis has given her a different perspective on her future and present. And yet she’s not defined by her disease, nor is she the kind of tragic, self-sacrificing Lurlene McDaniel heroine we’ve read before.
Plus, the whole story is Slatebreaking. More after the jump, but Hazel’s relationship with Augustus is not just incredibly romantic, lovely and believable, it’s a great model for a joyful, moving and mutually fulfilling, equally committed relationship between teens.
Brianna: I think that we should give Slatebreaking bonus points to Hazel’s mom. Maybe it’s a sign that we are “aging” into our later twenties and getting closer to the age of parent characters rather than protagonists, but I thought that Hazel’s parents were terrific. And I so appreciated how Hazel’s mom fulfilled all of her mom duties with generosity and grace, and still managed to pursue her own growth as a professional and individual.
Who would we give it to? Sarah: Well, it’s not like we have to make much of a case for it, because anyone who knows about it has it in his or her hands by now. For example, we are writing this review together in a giant auditorium right after watching John and Hank Green do their show for a crowd full of joyous Nerdfighters. The Nerdfighters are basically this awesome community created by the Green brothers that a lot of young adults are a part of. Watching the ecstatic response to John reading from his book and Hank singing about Harry Potter (he’s right, that epilogue is total crap) is pretty inspiring about the possibility of books to connect and activate young people across the world.
Though I don’t pretend to speak to the experience of someone dealing with cancer treatments for their friends or a family member, I was certainly impressed with the way this was treated in this book, and I believe that people who are dealing with those experiences would connect with it as well. Plus, for John Green fans, it’s finally a book about a girl!
Brianna: Whoever you give it to, deliver it as a package deal with a box of Kleenex. Include a note instructing them not to read it in public.
SPOILER WARNING: There are a million spoilers ahead. We are going to ruin this whole book for you. Don’t read ahead unless you have a) read it or b) don’t care.
Sarah: I have to emphasize how grateful I am that Hazel is not a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. We have long been fans of John Green’s clever, engaging writing style. We think he’s fantastic. Until this book, we’ve never connected with any of the women he writes about as Slatebreakers. A manic pixie dream girl’s purpose is to make an impact of the life of the male hero in some way without demonstrating a multi-faceted characterization in her own right, outside of “quirky.” Hazel and Augustus are both, in fact, quirky, and yes, they make an impact on each other’s lives, but the romance and the development of the characters is mutually and deeply realized in a way that you care about both of these characters and what happens to them mutually and independently of each other.
Brianna: Here’s the thing about Hazel and Augustus: they are not entirely believable characters. They talk in this elevated philosophical language. They are wildly smart and mature for their age, partially because of what they have had to cope with and partially because it makes them fun to read. Although I know that most teenagers don’t talk like that, I didn’t care. I wanted to read their witty banter and watch them fall in love despite all of the crap the world threw at them.
There is a perfect balance of sweet cynicism that emerges in Augustus and Hazel’s relationship. I think this exchange best showcases that lovely dynamic:
“No,” I said. I used my Wish pre-Miracle.
“What’d you do?”
I sighed loudly. “I was thirteen,” I said.
“Not Disney,” he said.
I said nothing.
“You did not go to Disney World.”
I said nothing.
“Hazel GRACE!” he shouted. You did not use your one dying Wish to go to Disney World with your parents.”
“Also Epcot Center,” I mumbled.
Sarah: Hazel’s relationships with people have changed because of her disease and her interaction with the world. It’s why the one angsty moment with her parents is so surprising, even though it’s something we would expect from other teen characters. She and Augustus fall in love so fast because they’re hyper-conscious of the time that they have left in the world. The difference in her relationship with Augustus is a stark contrast from her interaction with her friend Kaitlyn. Kaitlyn, who was one of Hazel’s friends “pre-cancer,” is not treated as a villain or an idiot in any way, but she’s still someone who just cannot connect with Hazel on the same level that Isaac and Augustus can. Hazel says:
“The other thing about Kaitlyn, I guess, was that it could never again feel natural to talk to her. Any attempts to feign normal social interactions were just depressing because it was so glaringly obvious that everyone I spoke to for the rest of my life would feel awkward and self-conscious around me, except maybe kids like Jackie who just didn’t know any better.”
Kaitlyn will just never have that intangible understanding of what Hazel has lived through.
Brianna: Sitting in that auditorium surrounded by teens teeming with excitement to meet their author hero, John Green, felt pretty meta. Especially considering Hazel’s disastrous encounters with Peter Van Houten. What struck me most this evening was how John Green’s interaction with his fan base is the polar opposite of this hateful, reclusive, and deeply disturbed author character in his book. Peter Van Houten alienates his readers, while John Green engages (and mobilizes) those who connect with his books. Green values readers’ responses to his books as much as he values the task of writing those books.
Sarah: Don’t forget the virgin Venn diagram! I am always a fan of Venn diagram humor.
Brianna: Ah yes, that spectacular Venn diagram. The Fault In Our Stars featured one of the most beautiful, kind, and honest sex scenes I’ve ever read in YA. It wasn’t wildly amazing sex, but rather gentle and kind of awkward sex between two people who love each other but have a few obstacles that make sex a difficult thing. And they used protection, so that was good.
Sarah: The end of this book wrecked us. When you look back on it, it’s not surprising, and yet, it’s devastating nonetheless. It was a relief to feel that in Isaac, Hazel still has someone to connect with so that she is not left adrift at the end of the book.
Brianna: For me, reading The Fault In Our Stars became not just a good read, but also a memorable life experience. It sucked me in and took up much of my thought space while I was reading. Now, being at this show tonight, I see how much John Green’s work matters to so many people. I can’t help but feel pride at all of these readers who have come out to share space and be awesome together. It was a good way to spend the evening.
Reviewed from copies purchased at Changing Hands bookstore.
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