Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult Ficton
Release Date: January 2012
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from June 6 to 12, 2014
Summary: Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
There is no shortage of fault to be found amid our stars.
The thing about this book is that I can't quite put my fingers on anything. I can't say I like it, but I don't dislike it either. I can't say it's a good book, but it's not a bad one either. I don't care much about it, but I've read it three times (trying to find something to like). I can't say John Green disappoints me, because he certainly doesn't. I just DON'T know how I feel about The Fault in Our Stars, whether the book or the movie. The story just doesn't work for me.
When I read it in March 2013, my feelings leaned toward the negative end of the spectrum. So here was the book everyone's been raving about, the book I supposed would change my life in some ways, and I expected nothing short of amazing from John Green anyway. And there I was, failing at feeling anything. Finishing the book thinking: well that's it? That in itself, not necessarily the story, was a huge, underwhelming disappointment. I felt like I'd been majorly cheated. I concluded that TFiOS is the most overrated book in the 21st century.
Though this time I had no expectations whatsoever, I still held the same conclusion. I started rereading again because I just wanted to find out exactly why it failed with me the first two times, and I still came away with no satisfactory answers. So I'll just stop trying to rack my brain and begin to tell you frankly how I feel, and maybe figure something out along the way.
First of all, I think a considerable amount of the hype surrounding TFiOS is cancer perks. I'm not saying anything bad here; I'm just pointing out that I think the book wouldn't have been so hyped about, hadn't it been for the fact that it involves cancer. And anyone arguing otherwise might be deluding themselves. I understand that cancer is an extremely relatable subject, and that naturally makes the book popular. (I like reading about subject matters that I can relate to as well, and I tend to like them, too.) What bothers me, though, is when people say this is not a book about cancer, but seriously, how can this book not be about cancer? It's all the characters ever talk about. It affects everything they do and don't do, their feelings and thoughts. Saying TFiOS is not a cancer book is like pretending you love the book for its beautiful story, not because it's about cancer. That you're not manipulated into liking it by the presence of cancer which defines the whole story as you know it. What makes a story beautiful, anyway? Doesn't cancer determine that they're not going to live long and yet they love each other that makes it a beautiful love story? I don't know how to put it nicely, but I feel like TFiOS is a pretentious book about cancer and uses the fact that it's a love story about people with cancer to manipulate readers' feelings and then bask in all the sympathy and tears it can get from them, which are people's natural reactions to cancer. I don't know what John Green's intention was, but I felt that the book tries to manipulate me the whole time. All I heard in my head was "OMG I'm gonna write a cancer book and people are gonna cry so hard and they're gonna love all the feels!!!!!!!!" That was a huge turn-off.
There were times when I liked Hazel and Augustus, but most of the times I didn't. Let's start with Augustus--to use Isaac's words--what a self-aggrandizing bastard. So. Pretentious. Apparently, he can't say anything without making it sound like a soliloquy, like he's prepared a speech for every occasion and memorized them so that when the occasion arises, he can recite the speech flawlessly on the spot and end it with a smirk to make the girl go even crazier. What's that you say, you fear oblivion? I don't see you trying so hard for the world to remember you, sorry. And what's with all these "metaphors"? How is a cigarette a metaphor for a "killing thing"--it IS a killing thing, no metaphor involved. Dear Gus, a metaphor is when you say something is another thing, whose similarities are not easily arrived at until you really analyze and think about them. Like in Carol Ann Duffy's poem "Valentine," an onion is a metaphor for love because it makes you cry or whatever. No, that pretentious act is not metaphorical, it's symbolic. It symbolizes defiance and the need to control, I get it. It just bothers me so much. For someone who complains about people's wrong use of literality, Augustus isn't good at literary terms either.
Hazel, however, is more bearable. I liked her at times when she shows her firm stance in reality and not grand daydreams, especially when she tells Augustus off about how this is the life you get now live with it. And she annoyed me really bad with her overly girly moments. I guess that's all I have to say about Hazel. She didn't make much of an impression on me. And oh, I didn't for a minute buy that they really loved each other. I didn't. Sorry. It just felt too forced.
I understand that they're supposed to come off as smart above their years, with their philosophical pondering and existential concerns and deep understanding of life and all, but honestly, I just didn't believe it. It didn't feel like them speaking THEIR thoughts. Augustus and Hazel feel more like quote-making machines, whose inner ramblings and dramatic monologues and soliloquies are literary devices through which John Green can deliver his most contrived yet gorgeous lines aiming right for the tear ducts--with expected responses of agreement such as "OMG so true!" or something along that line or real crying, for that matter. (Though I'll admit I highlighted those quotes, too. They're beautiful as standalone quotes, not suited for dialogues of teenagers.)
And yet, I understand why they're written this way. What I appreciate about TFiOS (I'm not so hateful, people) is that it's the most literary of all John's novels. I mean, almost everything can be analyzed to imply deeper meanings. For example, Augustus wants to be remembered by the world, hence: fear of oblivion, the air of self-importance, aggrandizing bullshit--all this so he can validate his significance. Hazel's obsession with An Imperial Affliction and how it ends represents clearly her concern for her parents after she dies. Many literary references and intertextuality appear in the novel. Like T.S. Eliot's "Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock," which Hazel knows by heart and can recite from memory, can illustrate the pointlessness and mundaneness of living, or even Hazel's "disturbing the universe" by falling in love with Gus despite her not wanting to be a granade. Or Hazel's continuing William Carlos Williams' "The Red Wheelbarrow" can reflect how she wishes she could've prolonged Gus's life. The motif "star(s)" occurs throughout the novel and in its title, but I haven't really given it much thought yet.
Although my experience reading TFiOS this time didn't improve much from the previous times, I can now rest in peace knowing that the reason I didn't enjoy the book was not because I was prejudiced or I expected too much, but because it was written in ways impossible for me to enjoy. That's not to say the book is bad; it seems to have achieved its purposes with other readers alright. It is as guilty for my not liking it as my programmed to reject anything that feels artificial is. I'm not upset like I was last time. After trying 3 times, it's clear that it just doesn't work. I made peace with the fact that we're not meant to be. The fault is neither in TFiOS nor in myself that I felt underwhelmed.
This review is also posted on Goodreads.