The Fault in Our Stars

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green

Hazel is a 16-year-old girl with terminal cancer. Her life is limping along until she meets Augustus Waters, an unexpected lightning bolt that refuses to be ignored. There are hospitals and poems, reclusive authors and picnics; and together the try to navigate some of life's most difficult questions.

I've been a John Green fan since reading Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns a few years ago, so my expectations for The Fault in Our Stars were high and yet he managed to exceed them. Soon the internet will be filled reviews of TFIOS. Many will discuss the fascinating elements in this novel (check out Ana's brilliant thoughts here) and I can't wait to see what everyone has to say about it. But this time I'm going to leave that to others and just stick to just talking about why this novel rang true for me. My reasons are threefold.

First, one of my close friends just lost her sister-in-law to cancer. She was incredibly young and left behind a husband and a four-year-old son. Only a few hours before I started the book, my friend and I were talking about how people tend to turn the deceased into saints. We forget about out silly arguments with them and the fact that sometimes they were rude or cranky. Instead, we think only of their best moments and in doing so we do them a disservice. We stop thinking f them as real people and so we're no longer remembering them, we are remembering a perfect idea of them.

So just after this conversation I started reading TFIOS and it talks about this issue in detail. It was just one of those moments when it feels like the universe is conspiring to teach you something. The timing was so perfect.

"The dead are visible only in the terrible lidless eye of memory. The living, thank heaven, retain the ability to surprise and to disappoint."

"The thing about dead people,... the thing is you sound like a bastard if you don't romanticize them, but the truth is... complicated, I guess."

My second reason is a geographic one. The majority of the book is set in Indianapolis, which happens to be my home town. No one ever writes fiction set in my city, seriously, no one. There are scores of novels set in London, New York and Paris and when I read them I sometimes recognize places the authors mention and feel a little thrill thinking I've see whatever the characters are looking at. But it's different when you actually live in the city.

Green mentions the farmer's market in Broad Ripple, which is held across the street from where I used to live. I would go there on Saturday mornings and buy apples and honey. He talks about the Castleton mall, where I hung out in high school and Holliday Park, whose ruins I have marveled at, just like Hazel does. When Hazel and Augustus have their picnic in a park by a museum, I knew exactly where it was and headed there to see Funky Bones for myself. After sweeping the snow off the top of the whole thing I took a few pictures, (see above), and then reread that section of the book. I can't explain how much I loved reading about my own city through the eyes of these wonderful characters.

Finally, I loved this book because of Green's writing. He writes in a way that is infinitely relatable. He does not shy away from difficult issues. Instead, he turns a story about cancer, death and the desire to be remembered into one about living and first love and favorite novels. He can take a subject as big as cancer and make us feel like we are talking to a friend about it.

He has the unique ability to say profound things in a simple way. For example, "It all felt very Romantic, but not romantic." I think anyone who has received red roses or a sappy box of chocolate can relate to that. The things that are suppose to feel romantic never convey that feeling half as well as those moments when you and your partner can't stop laughing at something silly or struggle through a difficult time together. Green takes moments like that and strings them together to create novels that feel so real. By the end of the book you care so deeply about Hazel, Augustus, Isaac and their parents, that you just want to stay in their world a little longer. And that is truly the highest praise I can give any book.

"Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you."

"You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful."

"The marks humans leave are too often scars."

Photos of Funky Bones by moi.


Ana S. said...

Thanks again for sharing your pictures of the sculpture. I really enjoyed reading your personal reaction too - such a great point about how we do the dead a disservice by only remember the positive.

Ellen said...

I've heard of John Green before, and your review's finally sold me on reading him. I've been looking for a good ya read for a while, sounds like this is gonna be it. it was a lot of fun to read about your personal reaction to the story - I don't mean on the cancer aspect (though, fantastic point about the way we reremember the dead as idealized versions of themselves), but on recognizing your own city through the character's eyes. Not much fiction takes place in South Jersey or even Philly, and when i find a book that does capture something of the places I grew up I take so much pleasure in it. There's something wonderful about seeing the things you see every day, through a well-drawn character's eyes.

BookQuoter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
BookQuoter said...

I don't usually read reviews of books I intend to read. So I will have to come back and read yours after.
I am so happy that you like it though, as I just got this from our library yesterday!

Anonymous said...

I am really looking forward to reading it. Even though I didn't grow up here, I have been to all of the places you mentioned and just recently saw the ruins in Holliday Park. I will definitely pick this book up soon. xo Care

Kailana said...

I really wish my copy of this would get here. I am really excited about it!

Jeanne said...

My son's signed copy just arrived, so I'll have to wait my turn. But since I've liked everything else by him, my expectations are now pretty high. And I love your "illustration" photo!

Jenners said...

Brilliant review. I'm almost tempted to read this despite not loving the other book of his I read (Looking for Alaska).

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Nymeth - It's strange to think about, but I hope people remember both the good and bad about me one day, because it's all part of who I am.

Ellen - The location thing was so new to me. I just loved reading about it. They stop at a gas station I go to all the time, etc. and it made me feel like they might be my neighbors.

BookQuoter - I can't wait to hear what you think!

Care - Aren't those ruins amazing! We'll have to discuss this one after you read it.

Kailana - I felt the same way. I preordered mine and everyone kept tweeting about getting their copies, but I didn't have mine yet. Hope you get it soon!

Jeanne - I love that your kids are such readers. It gives me hope that I might have readers if I have kids.

Jenners - Hmmm, it's definitely a similar style, but I think his writing has matured since then. I'm not positive you'd like it though.

Jillian said...

I can't believe I have not read this one yet, but I'm happy to hear you enjoyed this!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jillian - I think you'll love it!

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

My heart broke a little a the mention of your friend and the little boy she left behind.

I promised myself I would wait to buy this one until I could read it right away but then I saw a signed copy in my grocery store. I could pass it up! Now...just to find the time to get to it. ;)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Trish - It's a heartbreaking situation. I can't wait to hear your thoughts on this one.