Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars

Amsterdam, champagne, poetry, stars - and cancer... 

The Fault in Our Stars grabbed me from the first meeting of the Cancer Kids Support Group, where Hazel is forced to go and interact with other teens who are in varying stages of cancer. Hazel herself breathes with the aid of an oxygen tank, thanks to stage 4 Thyroid cancer. And then there's Augustus Waters - gorgeous, former basketball star, who has one leg but is in remission from osteosarcoma. 

Hazel and Augustus sparkle like stars together immediately. He introduces her to the Max Mayhem series; she shows him her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction. He calls her beautiful. She finds him also beautiful - terrifyingly so. How can she have a relationship if she is terminal? It's bad enough knowing she will break her parents' hearts one day, let alone a boyfriend's. 

However, Augustus is the kind of guy who loves protecting people (maybe because he has so many younger brothers and sisters?) When he plays video games, he loses because he has to rescue the characters. 

I'll interrupt myself here to point out the title comes from my favorite quote from Julius Caesar, when Cassius talks Brutus into murdering Caesar Augustus (Augustus - get it?) :

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.
Men at some time are masters of their fates.
The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.

The action moves from Indiana to Amsterdam. Green does a nice job of describing the city through Hazel and Augustus's eyes. They go to a lovely restaurant, Van Houten's house (he's the guy who wrote An Imperial Affliction) and the Anne Frank museum. Oh, and 

... Augustus's hotel room - complete with tubes, oxygen, and a Venn diagram.
(select the white text in the line above to read it.)
Amsterdam, courtesy of wikipedia.org

The Fault in Our Stars sucked me right in, but like Hazel's lungs, the book is not perfect. Hazel and Augustus just don't act like teens - she quotes T. S. Eliot, he speaks philosophical wisdom so profound it's difficult to believe it's coming from a human mouth, let alone from a teen dude who was a basketball player. 

I've read a lot of reviews saying the same thing - and yet, here's the deal. Green somehow performed magic and made me care about Hazel and Gus so deeply that I finished the book in  a few days and immediately read it again. It's hard to create that sort of emotional bond between reader and character, so kudos to him for performing it.

The descriptions of cancer are very intense. Green doesn't hold back - no soft, fuzzy "Love Story" haze over the hospital rooms here. No, he details body fluids and puke, as well as heartache. 

It is then Augustus finds there is someone he simply cannot save.

I heartily recommend Fault if you are willing to suspend your disbelief and accept dialogue along the lines of The Breakfast Club - extremely smart and philosophical, but not quite  real : more stage-y than teenage-y. Certainly, the car-egging scene makes up for it, as well as the minor characters: Isaac, Hazel's parents, and Van Houten himself.

I love this tumblr image for the book, found here

This review was a difficult one to write, I found; it would have been easy to trash the characters as idealized versions of kids going through something that really, really sucks. However, there are several things which didn't allow me to do that:

1. My fifteen year old niece loved the book and identified with Hazel and Augustus. Creating that sort of emotional attachment with ink and paper is a very tricky thing and quite an accomplishment. 

2. Green doesn't hold back on teenage anger. I loved that.

3. Did I mention I read this book twice? Flawed as it is, for me this was a portal to a new universe - one with faulty stars, but stars nonetheless.


Unknown said...

Great review Alison. Honest and from the heart.
~Just Jill

Alison DeLuca said...

Thanks, Jill! I really worked for days on this one; don't know why I found it so hard to review.