Sunday, January 15, 2012

Indescribable: The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Dutton Juvenille, 2012

There's nothing that I can really say about this book that hundreds if not thousands of people aren't already saying. I feel like any words that I try to put together to describe this novel, this incredibly poignant, funny, heartbreaking, intense, smart, beautiful story are all pale and pathetic in comparisson to the ones that John Green has put together. But I will try anyway, because this is one of those books where as you read it, you can feel something within yourself changing, and while I may not be the artist that Green is with words, I have to at least try.

Sixteen-year-old Hazel has stage IV thyroid cancer with mets in her lungs and it's terminal, but thanks to the experimental (and very fictional) drug Phalanxifor, the mets have stopped growing so she continues to live on borrowed time. Much to her displeasure, her mother insists that she go to a cancer kids support group and there she meets Augustus Waters, a truly exceptional 17 year old with one leg (lost to osteosarcoma) who is otherwise in good health, cancer free. The two end up bonding over Hazel's favorite book, An Imperial Affliction (again, very fictional - the novel within this novel doesn't actually exist much to the dissapointment of my students who have come to the library asking for it).

And so their adventure begins. I don't want to say any more than that about the plot for fear of spoiling too much, and this is one of those books where it is truly a crime if you know too much before you read it.

So instead, I'll just describe what it did to me and how it made me feel, or rather, how much it made me feel.

I feel totally and completely wrecked by this novel. There's humor and sadness interplayed so intricately and I appreciated that it was done so well because it made it all feel so sincerely real. Whereas some books, even in contemporary fiction, are an escape into a slightly rose-colored-glasses version of reality, with this book you simply go from being in your life to being in Hazel's.

This book literally made me laugh out loud, which I completely love. And then sometimes a page or two later, this book left me sobbing, and that is something that you'll have to trust me when I say is not easily done. I ached, literally and metaphorically. And just when I thought I couldn't take anymore, there was still more story left and even though it was twisting me inside out me, I kept going.

This book makes me feel guilty for latching on to characters in novels as tightly and as much as I have my whole life, and makes me start to think that I probably shouldn't feel that way, that I should be latching onto People instead and experincing more life outside of just reading about it.

This book makes me feel like I should scrap my own dreams of being a writer because now they seem like folly, a downright foolish thought because my stories are like stick figures compared to Green's Sistine Chapel. This book made me want to throw my own manuscript in the trash, and I know it sounds crazy, but I mean that in a good way. It makes me want to find a story I can tell that can do the things that this one has done to me. But I didn't burn my book (though I fleetingly contemplated it while sobbing over this story) because now that I've had time to process the story I've taken in, I remind myself that Green has been trying to write this story for 10 years and I am still very new to all of this. Practice, time, and certain life experiences are necessary for great books to happen. I don't care that Green says it took him this long to write the story, I'm just glad that he did and that it's out in the world now.

Green is often criticized for his teenage characters being too smart, but I see this as a strength. It is one of the reasons I love this book. While I've enjoyed the books he has written in the past, none of them have hit me with the intensity that The Fault in Our Stars has. It is why, not in spite of the things mentioned above but because of them, I can so strongly declare that this is one of the best books I have ever read, and I'm someone with an English degree and working on a library degree - I may only be 23 years old, but I've read a lot of books in my time. I can give no higher praise than that. The novel has been snatched up by nerdfighters around the world which is awesome, but I sincerely hope that it finds its way into the hands of as many people outside of our particular community as well.

So thank you, John Green, for writing this. Thank you for taking me on a rollercoaster and forcing me to look at myself and my life in ways I couldn't or wouldn't before.

Comments welcome and happy reading.

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1 comment:

  1. Great review. I'm looking forward to eventually reading this and so glad you didn't burn your manuscript. I say forget the guilt. And I have often heard of that argument of "hey, don't get too attached to fictional characters or books and live life yourself" but if anything, some of those characters, I feel, inspire people to live more, to see the beauty in life, that they cannot see in their physical life.