I struggled with this post because when I tried to pinpoint what didn’t work for me – scenes that seemed unrealistic or stereotypical – I kept thinking: how do you know what you’d do in their situation?
But that’s part of the point of The Fault in Our Starts: it makes us face the possibility. How would I handle the fine balance between protecting my loved-ones and my need to panic, to complain, to revolt, to assign guilt? Would I also just want to watch ANTM re-runs or would I write a book and plant a tree? Just for making me this uncomfortable, I must thank John Green and I give value to the book.
That being said, the dialogues were a major barrier. And by dialogues I mean the characters. I’ve read several reviews of the disappointed minority and this seems a common denominator. The unrealistic way these teens talk (“existentially fraught free throws“; “all of this (…) will have been for naught”), might be put down to how intellectual they are, how they had to wise-up and come to terms with their mortality when they should feel invincible. But that excuse didn’t stick because this isn’t my first John Green book.
If you’ve read him before, you’ll probably also see Hazel as another Miles or Quentin, Isaac as Hassan and Marcus or Gus as Alaska. In general they all sound very much alike and could easily be transposed into each other’s novels without major issues, including all having a road-trip! Also, if you’ve ever seen a Green interview or vlog you’ll know that he is these characters: he’s smart, hip, funny and cynical. So for all the praise it got for its realism and freshness, The Fault in Our Stars felt very much as just another John Green book.
The strange thing is that I enjoy the John Greeness in John Green’s previous books (and other Gilmore Girls-style of stories), but in this one not so much. I couldn’t escape the image of the puppet master, wanting me to cry hard, and think about the Purpose of Life, Disappointing Heroes and Remaining True to Yourself in the Face of Unimaginable Hardship (while reciting Great Poetry).
Because of all the buzz around the book, I expected Green to leave his formulas behind, take risks and make something truly different – the theme alone deserved it! Maybe the perceived freshness relies on the fact that it’s a YA book about teens dying of cancer and that should be enough. I found myself being much harder on Green exactly because it’s a book about teens dying of cancer, while feeling that everyone was giving him a free pass because of it.
It’s not fair to judge a book based only on my expectations and what I wanted to writer to do, but there you have it.
To finish on a high note: dying in these circumstances is not tidy or romantic and that was well reflected in the book. I’ve been there and I’m thankful for Green not to gloss it over. Because of this, the last chapters softened me up towards book, but not without some kinks. For instance, the scene where Gus tries to buy cigarettes is incredibly moving, but then Hazel, while calling 911, goes “I need an ambulance. The great love of my life has a malfunctioning G-tube”. *Smack upside the head!* Didn’t lines like that distract you?
I came late to the TFIOS’ blogging debate and wish I could persuade my bookclub to read it. Maybe talking would help me to better figure out why I feel about the book the way I do.