Friday, February 3, 2012

The Fault In Our Stars - Thoughts

First - I'm going to spoil the crap out of this.  If you haven't read it or don't want to read any spoilers, MOVE ON.

Second - There's no second.  I'm just a twat who likes to write things as lists.

The fact that I finished THE FAULT IN OUR STARS says something about the book.  Recently, I've had trouble finishing books.  My life has become complicated and busy in some rather fantastic ways, but it's been hell for my reading schedule.  If a book doesn't hook me, I quickly move on.

But I kept reading TFioS, and while I read, I yelled.  I rolled my eyes.  I sighed.  Once, I shed a couple of tears.

Listen, John Green is a talented writer.  He's witty and smart and I'm frequently in awe of his talent.  But when I read TFioS, I didn't hear the voices of Hazel Grace or Augustus Waters.  I only heard John Green. The same went for his other books.  And maybe that's okay.  Hell, maybe that's why legions love him.  John Green is a fantastic writer and a fantastic person and maybe it doesn't matter that the narrator and all the characters sounded like him.  But it kept pulling me out of the story.

You know how people laugh when babies use profanity?  There was a whole Modern Family episode recently where the toddler cussed at a wedding and everyone laughed.  Because it's funny when babies do stuff like that.  It's not so funny when adults do it.

That's how I feel about the characters in TFioS.  They look like teenagers but they sound like adults.  Adults that are far smarter than you or me.  They quote poems off the tops of their heads and philosophize and do all these really amazing smart things that most teenagers don't do.  Now, don't get me wrong, there are definitely loads of smart teens.  And part of me applauds JG for writing such intelligent characters, but the other part rolls his eyes and groans.  Because most teens are not like this.  And if you took the actions and dialog of John Green's teens and put it into the mouths of adults, most readers wouldn't find it endearing, they'd find it douchey.  They repeat things ad nauseam and call each other by Long Names that Aren't Funny After The First Time.  It's frustrating because I WANT to love these characters so badly.  I want to be on their side.  But JG makes it so hard to do that.

So, teens acting like adults.  In Looking For Alaska and Paper Towns, this was the only real fault (except for the Manic Pixie Girl syndrome, which in this book has been replaced with the Manic Sensitive Sweet Geek Boy syndrome), but TFioS really veers off track for me in two major places.

The first is the Van Houten Problem.  This subplot is ridiculous.  In the first draft of Deathday, I had Ollie and Shane and Ronnie go to high class prostitute who worked out of her home because she was part of a ring of homemakers who worked as high class prostitutes while their kids were at school.  It was one of those ideas that seemed brilliant until I realized it was ludicrous.  It never made it beyond the first sad draft.  And that's how I feel about Van Houten.  I understood what JG was going for, but the character was ridiculous and seemed there only to allow JG to get his characters to Amsterdam.  I'm not sure what else to say about this character.  He served no real purpose.  He didn't move the story forward.  He didn't provide closure for anyone or anything that couldn't have been achieved through less ridiculous means.

The second major problem I had is a little more difficult to discuss...

Cancer.  I hate movies and books that use cancer to emotionally manipulate me.  I watched this movie called LIFE AS A HOUSE with Kevin Kline and Hayden "Thank God Jar-Jar Binks Was Worse Than Me in the Star Wars Prequels" Christensen.  Kevin Kline's character is going to die.  He's estranged from his kid and blah, blah blah.  I knew from the first scene that I was being manipulated emotionally, and I hated it.  Sure, I cried like a tiny baby at the end, but I hated the movie for pulling my strings so blatantly.

TFioS is about Cancer.  In case you didn't know, they mention it at least a dozen times per page.  It's not just about Cancer.  It's about a girl with Cancer who dates a boy with Cancer that she met in her Cancer group, and the boy with Cancer had a girlfriend who died of Cancer.  And their friend Isaac lost his eyes from Cancer (he loses his girlfriend too but because of Cancer and not from It).  And the girl with Cancer's favorite book is about a girl with Cancer, which was written by a man–who does not have Cancer, but who had a daughter who died of Cancer.

The characters try to poke fun at the concept of Cancer Kids and their Cancer Perks and how all Cancer Stories have conventions like the Last Good Day.  But it fails to rise above those conventions and, instead of giving us characters to root for and feel deeply for, gives us more Cancer.

At the end of the book, I didn't feel like I'd read a story about Hazel Grace and Augustus Waters, I felt like I'd read a book about CANCER.  Which is sad because all of the characters had the potential to be great.  Better than great.  There were a couple of amazing scenes that rose to the surface.  The scene where they sold the swing set, and the scene where they have dinner in Amsterdam and drink the stars. The scene where they have sex.  These were great scenes that happened to be about characters rather than about Cancer.  I get that in the life of someone with a terminal disease, the disease becomes their whole life, but I couldn't help feeling like I was being played, like Cancer was used to manipulate me.  Can't hate the book, it has Cancer.


A writer friend and I often discuss bad reviews.  We both get upset when one of us gets a really scathing review, but I always tell her that the really great reviews and the really scathing reviews are the best.  Because even if I hated something, at least it made me feel deeply. And I have some very deep feelings about TFioS.  So I guess you could say that John Green did what he set out to do.

I finished this book last night, and didn't sleep well from thinking about it.  I thought that writing this review would help me sort out my feelings about it.  I'm still not sure whether I loved or hated it.  I think I loved parts and hated parts.  I think I really loved the parts I loved and really wanted to love the parts I hated.  I think if I replaced every instance of the word Cancer with Pudding, I'd have laughed more.  I mean, there's nothing funny about losing a leg to Cancer, but losing a leg to Pudding?  Hilarious.

The only thing I can do is tell you to read it yourself and then come back and discuss it with me.


  1. Only read the first part of your review, but that's exactly how I felt about the kids in Looking for Alaska. I really wanted to love the book, but the characters felt too much like adults with their adult baggage. Which is why I read and write YA, not adult books. And yes, it pulled me out of the story.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and have a great weekend!

  2. Given my (strong) opinions on the successes and failures of John Green; the concept of teens "talking like adults" (or so it is said!); and the problems, different approaches, and importance of You-Are-Going-To-Die Books, and particularly given that you wrote one of them that didn't make me want to punch things...I'm pretty sure this makes me morally obligated to respond in a thoughtful manner. Unfortunately it ain't gonna happen right now. It is possible that once I have spare time (almost certainly no later than July) you will receive an email out of the blue referencing Cancer And Pudding, and be confused, but hopefully intrigued as well.

  3. Leah - I look forward to a random email :)

    I should clarify one thing though...the teenagers talking like adults. I haven't got anything against smart teenage characters. But I think there's a difference between smart teenage characters and teenage characters that are mouthpieces for their adult creators. Melina Marchetta is a wonderful example of a writer who crafts smart but authentic teenage characters. Francisco Stork is another. Andrew Smith is another.

    The funny thing about this book is that my "review" comes off as negative, but I'd still recommend people read it. It's sort of a contradiction that way.

  4. Perhaps I am not familiar with Green's writing, but I found it both difficult and annoying to read such unintelligible dialogue, such as the obnoxious overusage of the word 'whatever,' mixed with the polar-opposite of far too advanced vocabulary of his 16 and 17 year old characters. I kept revisiting with the feeling that they were walking and talking dictionaries who would sometimes relapse into a state of stupor. It is this factor that made this book honestly hard for me to read. However, putting that aside, the book did have some amazing and epiphanous moments.


Keep it clean, keep it classy, and jokes are always appreciated.