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Friday, May 23, 2014

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Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars

The older I get, the more find that adults often write off the emotions and beliefs of young people. This is a book that makes you realize how unfair that is.

Terminal cancer patient meets cancer amputee in this young adult romance, and no one—not even a pretentious Dutch author with a drinking problem—can stop them from reveling in pretentious literature, ven diagrams, life metaphors, and Natalie Portman.
A sixteen-year-old girl with lung cancer is forced to attend a support group by her mom, who is afraid that her daughter’s America’s Next Top Model addiction is growing at an alarming rate. Among other fellow cancer kids, Hazel Grace Lancaster meets Augustus Waters, a very attractive seventeen-year-old amputee in remission.

Augustus is charismatic and charming and apparently “really hot,” while Hazel walks around with oxygen on a pole and a tube up her nose. But Augustus is attracted to her really hot brain, and it doesn’t hurt that she resembles Natalie Portman circa V for Vendetta. (Side note: he makes her watch this movie, and she kind of rants about how it’s a boy movie and wonders why boys expect girls to like boy movies. Needless to say, I was a little offended. Everyone loves dystopian movies where Hugo Weaving blows up Parliament with fireworks. EVERYONE.)

But other than that, I generally liked Hazel. She’s no bullshit.

It would be a disservice to say that this is a "coping with illness" type of novel, or something Mitch Albom would write about living your life to its fullest. I like this book because it is a coming of age story with undertones of battling with terminal illness.

More than anything, Augustus struggles to find meaning in his life, and he is impressed by Hazel, because she doesn’t. She can’t really afford to. While he constantly imagines himself dying in a heroic way, Hazel has accepted the way she will go. It's only a matter of time. 

But at one point, she brings up Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, which theorizes that all human need to fulfill certain needs before they can move on to other needs. So basically, you need to eat, sleep, and shit before you can worry about job security, and then you can worry about your social life, your self-esteem, and finally, your self-growth and awareness. But when you’re terminally ill, you kind of don’t fit into the pyramid, otherwise you’d be stuck at the bottom. She resolves that they are merely a "side-effects" of the world humans have created. But these young lovers aren't the typical teenagers you'd find making out at the top of the Anne Frank museum.

These are teenagers who crave answers and meaning just like the rest of us sorry sacks. They simply have a unique perspective. For instance, even though their friend Isaac loses both his eyes to cancer, he’s more upset that his girlfriend dumped him. Why should he feel any less devastated than a normal teenager? Cancer perks are small consolation, but at least nobody is going to yell at a sick blind kid for egging his ex-girlfriend’s car. “Pain demands to be felt,” as Augustus would say.

Early in the novel, Hazel lends him an ambiguous novel by a one-hit-wonder recluse author, and Augustus decides to spend his “Make-a-Wish” wish on a trip to Amsterdam, so that Hazel can get some answers from said author (apparently Hazel wasted hers on Disney World--a cancer kid faux-pas). And it is there that they come to learn that “grief does not change you, it reveals you.”

The novel also brings to light a lot of a things people don’t every really say about terminal illnesses. Apparently, if you die of cancer, you fought a strong fight and were a lovely person. Of course, why wouldn’t you want to acknowledge the very best of people? But Hazel and Augustus don't want to be the type of people whose sickness defines them. They want to be teenagers, who happen to have cancer.

This is a very well done young adult novel, and I daresay adults will enjoy it as well. There are some great moments and some humorous revelations. And as Hazel and Augustus will find, sometimes the answers we seek aren't always the ones we need.  

Title: The Fault in Our Stars

Author: John Green

Genre: YA, Romance

Recommendation: Yes

Best Reader Audience: Teenagers, People who like to cry.

Final Rating: 3 out of 5 Bumblebees

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  1. I really enjoyed this book. I appreciated the no-bullshit approach to death and dying it had. My one issue was with just how cool Hazel and Augustus are. Yes, they are more mature and self-aware teenagers than most teenagers on top of battling a terminal disease, but they were almost too cool. They were almost too self-aware and un-teenage-like that they felt obviously fictitious at times. It was the one thing that would occasionally pull me out of their story.

  2. That's actually a really good point. There were times where they did seem very teenager-ish (mostly when it came to flirting), but at other times, they were quoting poetry and surpassing their parents when it came to making life judgments, especially when she's so happy for her mom for pursuing a career (that did seem a little too mature). But I can forgive this because of their unique life circumstances. They both have probably gone through a lot more struggle than the normal teenager, possibly rendering them more mature. And Green does save this a little by giving Hazel a college student curriculum. Also, the cigarette thing was actually something that I thought fit the heightened maturity of a high-schooler, because it's something that a teenager might think is cool and deep, but I found it a little silly. I actually really love the scene when they're making out in the Anne Frank house, and she's kind of expecting the adults to look down on them, but instead they get applause. But I also thought that was probably unlikely (perhaps Europeans are that much cooler though).

    And at the very end, Augustus's mom assures her that he really loved her--not the puppy dog teenager love--but real "adult" love. And Hazel's just like: "I know this," as if the mom is way behind on her information. That's the sort of the sense I get where teenagers are kind of more aware than the adults, which is very often unlikely in real life... but because the characters have both looked death in the face, I think that gives them more credibility to contemplate philosophy than the average teenager. I had more of an issue with Augustus' never-faltering self-confidence. Losing a leg and dealing with an asshole ex-girlfriend can't be morale boosters. But I guess when you go through something like that, you really have nothing to lose.