Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Book The Fault in Our StarsThe fact that this novel has been turned into a ‘major motion picture’, as stated on the cover, actually put me off slightly. But when I eventually picked it up I regretted not having read it sooner. I immediately identified with Hazel, the book’s protagonist, even though I am not a teenager, I am not American, and I don’t have cancer. Hazel is a reader (obsessed with one particular book – An Imperial Affliction), she loves words, she sees everything from her own wry, unconventional perspective, and so does Augustus Waters, the boy she meets at Cancer Kid Support Group.   

The Fault in our Stars is not a true story. It’s ‘realness’, however, is so real that you do keep sort of hoping it might actually be real, even though the author clearly states in his author’s note that it is entirely fictional. This even includes the book ‘An Imperial Affliction’ which Hazel loves. Green has admitted that this is also fictional, although he has explained that it is based loosely on two books which he admires: Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, and The Blood of the Lamb by Peter De Vries. The title of this imaginary book comes from an Emily Dickinson poem: ‘There’s a certain Slant of light’ (which happens to be one of my favourites).

Hazel is sixteen and has cancer which affects her lungs, so she must go everywhere attached to an oxygen tank with a cannula through her nose. She has had some miracle treatment which has given her a few extra years, but it is terminal. Augustus has also had cancer, which resulted in a prosthetic leg, but he is now officially cancer free.

The Fault in our Stars is a work of literature, and a touching tale of love, and yet still manages to be a book about American teenagers; kids who play video games, who drive badly, who get upset and need their parents. The plot centres around Hazel’s enthusiasm for her favourite book (An Imperial Affliction – a book full of metaphors) and her desire to discover what happens to the characters, after the story ends. This leads her and Augustus on an adventure to Amsterdam in an attempt to meet its reclusive author.

The novel explores the ideas of authorship and stories. Hazel’s desire to know what happens next is a metaphor in itself. What happens to the people we love after we die? Do we cease to exist just because we are no longer alive? Hazel is afraid that by dying she will hurt her parents and ruin their lives, and yet there is nothing she can do to stop it from happening.

It doesn’t end in the way you expect, either, with plenty of surprises to keep you guessing along the way. The narrator, Hazel, is believable and has a brilliant sense of humour. I think the novel is best summed up in its own words:

“You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice…”

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