Friday, February 3, 2012

Review: The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

Somewhere along the line John Green became one of those authors whose books I would automatically read, no questions asked. So when Book Depository kindly alerted me that his next book, The Fault in Our Stars, was available for pre-order I bought it without thinking twice, or without actually, you know, investigating what it was about.

I’ve said before, many times, that John Green has a habit of writing the same book over and over, with slight adjustments. Self centred boy loves manic pixie dream girl type, treats his best friendly badly, gets into some crazy situations, gets a stern talking to by best friend, releases what an ass his been and that girls aren’t everything. Sometimes he gets the girl, sometimes he doesn’t- that’s not really the point.

Of course, John Green writes his stories with such skill and wit that I was more than happy to keep reading the same book only different over and over again, and I guess when I cracked open The Fault in Our Stars that’s exactly what I was expecting to get.

And that is what I got. Kinda. Except not really.

The first departure from his standard formula is immediately apparent. The narrator of The Fault in Our Stars is a girl. Hazel. For the most part I think Green captured the female point of view really well, without ever coming close to stereotypical clothes/shopping/boys territory. Tip for male writers: It’s ok if your female protag doesn’t like shoes, we’ll still know she’s a girl! I think it’s tricky for some writers (female and male) to write convincing female voices without the “shortcuts” of liking jewelery and makeup and boys and ponies and whatever. Not that there aren’t plenty of teenage girls like that out there, but there are also many who aren’t. A few minor hiccups aside, he nails it. Hazel is a complete departure from the manic pixie dream girl model Green used with his previous female characters like Alaska and Margo, which was kinda ironic given that another character tells Hazel several times that she looks one of the original manic pixie dream girls, Natalie Portman. Maybe Mr. Green was poking fun?

Hazel has a pretty nasty case of the cancer, which miraculously didn’t kill her years ago but is going to get her eventually. At a lame cancer support group meeting she meets handsome cancer survivor Augustus Waters, and the story is off. And here we return to more familiar John Green territory. The book might be lacking a manic pixie dream girl, but in Augustus Waters we’ve got a fairly spot on example of a manic pixie dream boy.

Just like Margo and Alaska and the girl from an Abundance of Katherine’s not called Katherine, Augustus is quirky and free spirited and he has a slightly offbeat name. And like in all of those books he rescues Hazel from herself.

I wonder if John Green is capable of writing a book without a character of this type. In each of his books he bounces his straight main character off of this character's weirdness (even in Will Gayson, Will Grayson, with the role being filled by Tiny) and the plot is driven forward by them. Alaska’s accident is the focal point of Looking for Alaska, Margo’s breadcrumb trail is the backbone of Paper Towns and In The Fault in Our Stars Augustus uses his “wish” to get himself and Hazel to Amsterdam to meet the author of her favourite book.

This all must seem very critical, and if John Green was less of an author is would be. But John Green is not less of an author. He’s amazing. His books are funny and some of the most intelligent and thought provoking I have ever read. The way he weaves deep philosophical questions into his narratives never fails to delight me, and leave me staring off into the distance, deep in thought. And I can’t think of any other author who incorporates poetry into their work as well as he does.

I think The Fault in Our Stars might be his best yet. It a book about death and life and young love and books. Especially books. The importance of books in our lives, the disconnect between book and author, the question of who “owns” a book once it’s out there, the author or the reader, and the ways fiction can and can’t immortalize someone. I remember doing a class at uni on “the death of the author” and if this book had of been published then I would have been bringing it up every two seconds. It’s fantastic stuff, and I love the fact that John Green is exposing teenagers to these ideas.

I’m aware that this review is starting to get ridiculously long. I just want to say that I don’t have much experience with cancer, or of young people with cancer, but Green’s portrayal of it felt really authentic to me. Not too maudlin but not too light. It was a book in which the main character has cancer, but never feels like a book about cancer.

Ultimately this is a really good book. Really really good. Even if I did read the last few chapters sobbing like a baby. Green departed from his formula a little, if not entirely, and it’s left me excited to see what he does next.

I bought this book

No comments:

Post a Comment