Feel All of the Things: The TFT Review of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
In a Youtube video answering question’s about his latest novel, The Fault in Our Stars, John Green expressed the hope the book would make readers “feel all of the things.” The best way I can find to describe the experience of reading this story of two teenage cancer patients falling in love is to compare it to the feeling you get when you wake up after your first work out in months; you didn’t realize you had that many muscles. I didn’t realize there were so many things I could feel.
First, there is hope. You’re rooting for Hazel almost instantly; a the sixteen-year old permanently tethered to an oxygen tank, given a stay of execution of sorts by a miracle drug that saved her life as a preteen but won’t see her into adulthood. She can be angry but rarely bitter, doesn’t see herself as an endlessly cheerful stereotypical cancer kid, but doesn’t whine about her suffering. She simply deals with her “lungs that suck at being lungs.” It’s Hazel’s unique voice that makes the novel such a wonderful read. She has the tone of a teenager, appreciative of her parents but sometimes wanting time to herself, crushing on a boy but not quite understanding what that means, but she also has the wit and humor of someone who’s well read and grew up surrounded by adults instead of children.
It would be easy to categorize The Fault in Our Stars as a teen romance, one that makes A Walk to Remember look like a comedy by comparison, and there are incredibly sweet moments between Hazel and Augustus, a bold, charming guy she meets in a cancer support group they were both attending against their will. They share a picnic (a picnic with a well executed theme), a romantic dinner in Amsterdam (part of a Make-a-Wish trip) and have the overall indie-couple courtship that abound in YA lit but never get old and stale because it’s always so brand-new for the characters. She recites him poetry, he introduces her to new books, and you start to hope that all this cancer stuff was all a misunderstanding and they’ll be able spend at least the rest of their teenage years together, passing notes during college seminars with inside jokes about video games and Shakespeare.
At it’s heart The Fault in Our Stars isn’t even about death, it’s about the aftermath: what legacy we’ll leave when we’re gone and how our absence will affect the ones we love. Hazel worries what her death will do to her parents, that they’ve become so consumed with her care they’ll be left with nothing, while Augustus is constantly thinking about what he can do that will give his life meaning even after he’s gone. This book doesn’t let death, as heavy as it might seem, be a stand alone character; it forces you to look at its parts.
It’s not a sad book, it’s not a happy book, it’s not hopeful or despairing. The Fault In Are Stars will not be categorized, though you can definitely say it didn’t forget to be awesome.
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