Fault in Our Stars (Review)

Labels: A Lighter Touch

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The Fault in Our Stars
John Green, 2012
336 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
May, 2012

This is a Young Adult book which, like The Book Thief before it, has migrated over to the adult market. Although it's a teenage romance, it offers such a beautiful rendering of teens-in-trouble that adults have found it riveting.

In this book, "teens-in-trouble" has a different meaning than it ususally does. Hazel, the 16-year-old narrator, drags a portable oxygen machine behind her wherever she goes. Augustus, her boyfriend, a former basketball player, wears a prosthetic leg, and their friend, Issac, misses an eye. This is the grim reality for three teens battling cancer.

Yet John Green lends each of his characters a knowing, hip, and often funny voice, leavening the sadness and creating tender, endearing portraits. Their courage, acceptance, and humor in the face of fate is what makes their story irresistible.

The book's title takes Shakespeare's line from Julius Caesar—"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves"—and turns it on its head. The Bard's Cassius means that inner character determines fate. John Green's book suggests otherwise.

Young cancer patients know their days are numbered; their disease is beyond their control, predetermined by the alignment of the stars...or their own genes. As Hazel says,

There are infinite numbers between zero and one. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others.... I want more numbers than I’m likely to get.

Yet what these young people also understand is that the time they have left—and what they do with it—is, indeed, up to them.

Hazel and Augustus share a devotion to one another and to An Imperial Affliction, a (fictitious) novel based on a young girl dying of cancer. Affliction ends abruptly, mid-sentence, and the two teens are obsessed with learning what happens to its characters. Yet the book's author, Peter Van Houten, reclusive and mysterious, has never answered Hazel's many letters to him. So the two teens undertake a quest to find him and ask him face-to-face.

In between, readers are exposed to the mess and pain cancer patients confront: operations, pills with side-effects, bodily fluids, debilitating weakness, despair and shame. We also witness true love—families for their children, friends for friends, and love between a teenaged girl and boy.

This book is a winner for teens and adults. It's a book to read and talk...talk...talk about.

See our Reading Guide for The Fault in Our Stars.

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