The Fault in “The Fault in Our Stars”

Warning: Spoilers!

*Sighs* I wanted to like this book. I REALLY wanted to like it…

I read my first John Green book a few months ago for our book club and went into it with an open mind, YA fiction typically being a hit or miss with me. I found “Looking for Alaska” to be incredibly predictable and whiny, in that whiny tone of voice that only the troubled teen can emulate with perfection. I found it difficult to connect with any of the characters, having not experienced any of the particular trials they were going through, and thought that maybe I would connect better with different characters, with a different plot and storyline.

So, I gave “The Fault in Our Stars” (FIOS) a chance. I had only heard rave reviews about this book. How it was both emotionally uplifting and trying, and made readers equally smile and cry. Having experienced a close family member battle through and succumb to cancer, I thought that this may be a book with characters I could relate to.

Let me start with the things I enjoyed about this book before I get to the list of cons…

I felt that the author depicted the plight of an individual battling with cancer very well. A number of the fears and emotions that both Hazel and Gus experienced aligned with those fears that my aunt fought with; fears that are universal regardless of age. He clearly did his research into the subject which, as both a reader and a writer, I truly appreciate and give a hearty applause to.

I also truly enjoyed the snippets of beautiful language throughout the book. Reflections on life, anxiety surrounding death, the all-encompassing fear of if there is an afterlife and what it entails, beautiful depictions of young love and true, unadulterated passion for another human being, and Hazel’s beautiful parting soliloquy to her beloved Gus. However, I wish there were more of these lovely prosaic morsels throughout the book rather than a handful of sentences here and there.

Much like “Looking for Alaska,” FIOS was painfully predictable. Throughout the entire book, I accurately and easily guessed the series of events. As soon as the topic of the “Make a Wish Genie” was introduced, I suspected that somehow, Hazel would make it to visit the author of her beloved favorite book. From the very beginning I had this inkling that in a “surprising” turn of events, Gus would relapse and it would be he, and not Hazel, who would pass away from this tragic disease.

Check and check. Predictability is a huge turn off for me as a reader and I truly wish there had been more suspense and guessing throughout this novel.

Also like “Looking for Alaska,” FIOS was whiny in the teenage angst whine, not the “seeking sympathy for my ailment” whine. I truly feel for anyone who has to personally go through or witness a loved one suffering through cancer; they have every right to complain about how unfair life is. The teenage angst however, is a drone that is like nails on a chalkboard to me.

I suspect that the ending of Hazel’s prized book “An Imperial Affliction” was supposed to correspond with the ending of FIOS. The character in this book has a form of cancer, and the book ends abruptly; leaving the reader to wonder what happens to her mother and her boyfriend, to her friends, and to her hamster; leaving the reader to assume that the character either died or became too ill to continue “writing” the book. FIOS ends similarly shortly after Gus passes away. Hazel delivers her beautiful parting words and the book just ends. The reader is likewise left to wonder if after Gus’ death, Hazel passes away or is too ill to give us any indication of what comes next. What happens to Hazel’s family, to her friends, and to other characters we meet along the way?

A complete and total contradiction! Mr. Green instills in us again and again Hazel’s frustration that she is left knowing NOTHING about how this book that has meant so much to her ends, and yet leaves us equally frustrated! Does Hazel die? What happens to her parents? How do her friends and Gus’ family fare? So unsatisfying!

Pros: Respect and considerable research for the topic, accurate depiction of the plight that is cancer, and beautiful moments of prose. Cons: Painful predictability, teenage whininess, and a frustrating contradiction of storylines.

Perhaps if I had read this book as a teenager, I would feel differently and the “cons” I listed would not be as much of a deal breaker for me. As it is, these negative points are some of my biggest peeves as a reader and simply overshadowed any hope of total enjoyment of this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars


3 thoughts on “The Fault in “The Fault in Our Stars”

  1. I hope you don’t mind a little more discussion on this. 🙂

    I’m not going to talk about the element of surprise. I found it surprising, you found it predictable. The end. Boring.

    As for angst, I can sort of see what you’re saying in “Looking for Alaska.” The first half of the book deals with some not-terribly-adult struggles like fitting in and making new friends (although it also deals with struggles like imagining others – especially others that we are romantically interested in – complexly). The second half I thought was a more realistic study of grief after an unexpected loss with a good deal less “typical” teenage stuff. But with TFIOS, I can’t see it! Can you be more specific? Hazel and Gus both face some very serious issues around their terminal conditions: fear of death, fear of hurting the people they love, fear of becoming attached to someone who they will only hurt, isolation… These are big issues that even adults would struggle with, and they get to additionally struggle with knowing they’ll die years before they even have the agency to live the lives they want. If there’s anyone who deserves a little leeway for angst, I’d imagine it’s people dying of cancer, and cancer kids even more so. So what angst are you specifically referring to?

    Also, I’d have to disagree with you about the conflicting storylines. Hazel’s reason for wanting to know what happened to Anna’s family isn’t so much about wanting to know more about the book as it is Hazel wanting the book to show her the future of her own family: what will happen to her mom? Her dad? Will they just give up? Will they go on? She loved the book for its realistic portrayal of her cancer, and she suspects that it could give her a realistic portrayal of what will happen after she’s gone, which is why she fights so hard to get answers. And in that way, I think Green does give us more payoff than VanHouten. Far from ending the book in the middle of the sentence with no wrap up at all, we find that Hazel’s parents have plans and a future. In this way, Hazel even actually learns what she wanted to know for the whole novel: that the people in her life will be okay and that she didn’t come into life just to destroy everything around her.

    Don’t get me wrong – dislike the book if you want. But I’m afraid I didn’t totally get some of your problems with it.

  2. With regards to Alaska, I agree with you in that the second half of the book delves into issues that are more universal and complex. However, I felt that those issues were handled in a very immature and reckless manner. That is typical teenager behavior which there is nothing wrong with; it just annoys me personally as a reader. Been there, done that, and I’d rather not relive my own teenage reckless behavior through the literature I chose to read as an adult.

    In FIOS, I also agree with you in that Hazel and Gus both face serious issues that individuals of all ages struggle with; I have witnessed it first hand and it is heartbreaking. In my review, applauded Mr. Green for his accurate depiction of this portrayal of these fears, of this “angst” that both of the characters deal with. However, the angst that I am referring to in my review is not the angst surrounding the anxiety of dealing with a terminal disease, but that of the numerous little tantrums that Hazel has throughout the book and her over all teenager-y tone of voice that jumped out at me.

    That being said, I wholeheartedly believe and admit that my opinions surrounding Alaska influenced my opinion of this, made me very biased, and I was more sensitive to similar teenage behaviors. But again, much like my issues with Alaska, this is more a personal preference which is why YA fiction is typically a hit or miss with me.

    I suppose that my referencing this next issue as a “conflicting storyline” may be confusing. What I am referring to here is not that the two storylines do not parallel; they do and they do so in a beautiful way. I agree with you in that Hazel uses AIA as a “roadmap” of sorts in dealing with her own illness-related trauma; the book helps her answer many questions, and aids in her own personal discovery (especially after sharing it with Gus). However, I feel that the “resolution” we get in that she realizes that she is not this “grenade” that she is so preoccupied over comes very late in the book and it still ends quite abruptly.

    Of course Hazel’s parents have plans, but plans change. Her family didn’t PLAN on Hazel getting cancer. No one PLANNED on Gus relapsing, but it happened. Life happens. You can’t predict this and I think that this book is a prime example of that. So, I disagree with you in that we are left with closure. I feel that though she somewhat makes peace with what is happening to her, we are still left wondering. Not as much as Anna is left wondering in AIA, but the resolution is very unsatisfying for me.

  3. I have never read Alaska but that may be due to the fact that I read FIOS first. I found with reading the book the same things you have listed as pros and cons with your review of this book. And maybe had I been a teenager when I read it I would of found it to be more to my liking but I even question that.
    The characters weren’t quite what I expected and I found that even with their given set of circumstances, the teenage angst was a bit too much. Yes we know they are going through some very heavy and sad circumstances as teens but there comes a point and time when it can get to be boring. Also the ending was abrupt but while I was surprised by it I was not left with that sense of wonder that I think was intended.
    I was hesitant to read the book originally because I had just lost my father to cancer but I feel that, with all the reviews I had read, it might of given me that good cry that I felt I needed. It didn’t and I felt even more let down by the book because the reviews had built it up so much. The book wasn’t horrible and obviously plenty of people liked it but I guess there are those of us that it just missed the mark with.

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