I feel like a bit of the dark horse in the race of reflections put across for this book, but I'm going to preface the following review with some considerations before I dive into my reflections. Hopefully that will give context to some of the things I'm about to say about "The Fault in Our Stars" and what issues I had with it personally. That's not to say that other people will or won't have these same issues, but it's food for thought and reflection.
1.) Almost two weeks ago (as of the time I'm writing this review, 5-24-2014), I lost my own mother to Stage 4 Breast Cancer. It's was one of the reasons I was really sporadic with posts/updates as of late. It was only two weeks before that point that I learned that she even had cancer, so to say the last month or so has been a whirlwind for me and the people closest to me emotionally is an understatement. Probably more than many people realize.
2.) My mother was a registered nurse, and a damned fine one at that. She always made sure her patients had the best of care and would not rest until she knew they were cared for - and if speaking to many of her former co-workers, employers, and friends in the past week has been any indication, she really went above and beyond, and with a smile on her face in most measures. There were times she talked about her experiences with my family just in general reflection, but she treated patients of many different walks including those with terminal cancer. That said, I wasn't happy with some of the nurse slighting statements I found in this book, but I think that was a relatively moot issue in comparison to some of the other things that I had problems with here.
So, those personal notations mentioned, I went into "The Fault in Our Stars" expecting an emotional read. A friend of mine was telling me that I should read this book eventually, and I kept putting it off for the longest time (not so much because I intended to, but...my TBR list is huge. =/).
When I told my friend that my mother passed away and that I was considering picking this up, he wondered if I was picking this up too soon, but I told him in so many words "I'm a tough cookie, I can handle pretty much anything people throw at me, even in fiction." And that sometimes it helps to read on subjects that are intimate to you even if they may be tough because it gives you some measure of perspective, in different modes.
But then he pretty much told me in so many words: "Rose, knowing your experiences and perspectives and what you like in books, I really don't think you're going to like this."
That surprised me because I've actually looked forward to reading this book for what...years? It's been on my TBR a while. Many of my friends - online book communities and off - pretty much loved this book, tears and feels all in tow. Even some people I knew who had issues with John Green's narratives feeling samey (and even those who had issues with John Green's ideologies and approaches to things of controversy in the book world) said that they really liked this book.
I just decided to dive in. The only expectation I had pretty much was that this would be an emotional read and to kind of read it through a filter if it mirrored too much of my recent experiences with the loss of my mother. I even expected to cry, probably not Patrick Ness/Siobahn Dowd's "A Monster Calls" level of crying (because even the thought of that book reduces me to tears, even today because it was so. spot. on.), but I expected it to be an emotional experience.
To be honest with you, I'm really underwelmed in the aftermath of reading "The Fault in Our Stars." I don't say that lightly considering the subject matter this touches on. It's not that I think it was a totally bad book. Nah, it's not even close to some of the narratives I've read for better and worse. But it somewhat suffers from a very similar measure that the book, ironically, touched upon itself.
Take these quotes from the book, care of Augustus talking to Hazel about those who are remembered after losing their battles to cancer:
“The thing about dead people,” he said, and then stopped himself. “The thing is you sound like a bastard if you don’t romanticize them, but the truth is . . . complicated, I guess. Like, you are familiar with the trope of the stoic and determined cancer victim who heroically fights her cancer with inhuman strength and never complains or stops smiling even at the very end, et cetera?”
...Right, but really, I mean aside from us obviously, cancer kids are not statistically more likely to be awesome or compassionate or perseverant or whatever. Caroline was always moody and miserable, but I liked it. I liked feeling as if she had chosen me as the only person in the world not to hate, and so we spent all this time together just ragging on everyone, you know? Ragging on the nurses and the other kids and our families and whatever else. But I don’t know if that was her or the tumor. I mean, one of her nurses told me once that the kind of tumor Caroline had is known among medical types as the Asshole Tumor, because it just turns you into a monster. So here’s this girl missing a fifth of her brain who’s just had a recurrence of the Asshole Tumor, and so she was not, you know, the paragon of stoic cancer-kid heroism. She was . . . I mean, to be honest, she was a bitch. But you can’t say that, because she had this tumor, and also she’s, I mean, she’s dead. And she had plenty of reason to be unpleasant, you know?”
There's an odd parallel to that statement to the presentation of this book and how people of various measures receive it. This is a book about teens who suffer from cancer; apart from the love story elements and quirkiness, it's a darned heavy subject matter to take on. One would expect it to be an emotional read - for many people, I don't doubt it was - but when it turns out not to be for you personally, what do you do with that? You wonder whether it makes you heartless if you don't shed tears or if you think the presentation is very off for what it expounds upon.
I will make a very important distinction in this review that Green, during the measure of this entire narrative, does not. Not everyone has the same experiences with cancer, whether you're a person who is suffering from the illness, or if you're someone who has a loved one or S.O. suffering. Not every person gets the opportunity to have "cancer perks" or fall in love, or have people supporting them in the fight against this debilitating illness.
(I almost would've appreciated a note on this in the author's notes than the condescending note that was at the beginning of this narrative about fiction and divining truth out of those details, that to me was a little insulting because it's not like fiction is a complete disconnect from the reality around us. Even fantasy/science fiction doesn't lack parallels to the real world in order to understand its contexts. And being able to expound upon truths and experiences is what makes discussions surrounding books and their contents worthwhile, so that we may be able to understand the wealth of reactions and reflections that may come from the experience of reading anything, and maybe better expound upon that in future discussions/portrayals, even in the measure of writing stories - because sometimes, a story can be a discussion, and you open that discussion upon sharing it.)
To me, "The Fault in Our Stars" was a book about cancer and individuals suffering within that spectrum tied with a very pretty, quirky bow. And while one could argue that this was more of a romance with a twist that somewhat defines the course of the novel, can you really say it's a twist if you knew that would happen from almost point one?
Augustus and Hazel are teens who are in the same circles for cancer treatment and counseling. Both of them have very mature voices for their age, and I'll admit it was a bit of a struggle trying to follow them in the beginning because their voices were *always* quirky, always in the measure of hypothesizing and drawing intelligent parallels, to the point where it was overmuch and forced. Granted, I like intelligent characters and reading into what they say, think, and know, but when you have characters ruminating upon the ghettoization of scrambled eggs for breakfast...that's a little too much, man. (I don't even know...I just don't know.)
It made me think that the narrative was trying a bit too hard to sell their characters early on. Now granted, keeping in mind that individuals suffering from cancer or somehow affected by cancer do not have the same experiences, I followed it without too much commentary, other than I thought the voices weren't as natural as they could've been. Green did some research with this and I could tell as much with that, but there were many times I winced from the actions without repercussions taken by the characters. On one hand, Hazel mentions the characters getting special allowances and privileges because they're like "HEY, I have CANCER" (i.e. cancer perks), but at the same time, you have Augustus saying something like the above quote saying that cancer didn't give you the right to act in ways that hurt other people.
So then why was it so celebratory when the boy who lost both of his eyes to cancer got away with egging someone's car? Um...does not compute...contradiction alert.
I actually think the writing got a little more even as the book progressed, as did Hazel's voice and interactions. I did genuinely like Hazel's rapport with Gus in moments of this work, and I'll admit there were times when I chuckled because they were cute in their banter and gobetweens. I actually really liked the narrative around the time they were planning to go to Amsterdam, because there were some really nice moments between them, even in humor.
Bet this is the point where you say "There's a 'but' somewhere in there, Rose. I just know there is." You would be right.
I probably would've been more forgiving of this narrative if Augustus and Hazel's relationship had been less *pushed* by the narrative itself. (The whole Anne Frank memorial scene really made me antsy, a lot on the note of people's convenient applause of them when they were discovered kissing.)
I did see the "twist" coming (pretty much called it early on in the book saying "I bet that's going to happen and if it does, I'm going to probably be disappointed with the way it's handled, because I can only think it's going the route of melodrama."). Instead of me being as emotionally tied to it, I thought even after it was revealed, the indulgence in that measure just felt too drawn out, instead of reflective and emotionally jarring. I could talk about how one of the characters here is seen in not so great moments, such as wetting the bed or losing weight or moments of ongoing illness, but considering the way it was presented, it was more of a beautified complex rather than something with realistic impact. The moments of imperfection were almost kind of a blip in comparison to the idealisms, which is ironically something Green shows - through his characters - with criticisms of how people perceive people battling cancer and being remembered in the aftermath.
So...what was the perspective to be had here? I saw it as a contradiction saying/speaking against one thing, but later on showing that same idealism from the characters interacting with each other. I got the intention was probably to show the merits of that character and what they meant to the other character (notice I'm not naming names, I'm trying to tap dance around the spoiler, but honestly - you could probably guess this without having read the book if you've read enough romances in this vein with some element of tragedy). I don't think that was what happened though, as I think the character subject to that remembrance was a bit of a "perfect" character construction to begin with. These characters were all very ideal for the subject matter presented and it was hard to feel for it given the gravity of the tough subject this book has within its backdrop.
And maybe that's the problem: cancer in this book is the backdrop to another story told, as a vehicle and not necessarily with the gravity it has. While the different focus wasn't so much the problem, the measure that was came the way that it was presented with respect to the gravity in which that relationship occurred and with the approach it took on, asking many elements to be overlooked and underfocused (or completely unaddressed).
In the end, even with some moments of spark, this was a star that didn't shine very much for me, and it was likely because I saw the artificial wires that were attached to make it shine brighter rather than just letting the natural light shine through.
Overall score: 2/5 stars