In John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, two teenagers with cancer navigate life and love and literature while also dealing with dying from cancer. The novel could have been a real downer to be sure, but Green’s novel packs in a healthy dose of humor and wit while also taking on the heartbreaking scenario of dying children. In fact, the teenagers that the novel is meant for will surely love it, having their heartstrings plucked at just the right times and recognizing themselves in the characters, even if they can’t necessarily relate to dying of cancer. It is adult readers of the book who may have problems with it.
Young Adult fiction has become a powerhouse of the publishing industry. After Harry Potter and Twilight reintroduced kids and teens to the wonderful world of reading, publishers were also introduced to the wonderful world of kid’s discretionary income. Since then, young adult series like The Hunger Games and Divergent have taken the publishing world by storm. Not only are they highly successful books, they also are bringing in big bucks at the multiplex. The Fault in Our Stars is the next big thing, and parents with teens are going to be taking a look.
The Fault in Our Stars is about two teenagers with cancer. The narrator, Hazel, has a form of cancer that ravages her lungs and forces her to walk around with an oxygen tank. At a cancer support group for kids she meets Mister Teen Cancer, Augustus. Augustus also has his own marks from his battle with cancer, a missing leg. Hazel and Augustus navigate young love and an improbable trip to Amsterdam to track down Hazel’s favorite author. The trip does not go well, and, avoiding spoilers, things begin to go down hill from there. The film adaptation opens on June 6.
The faults in The Fault in Our Stars probably won’t be all that visible for young readers. For adults, though, there is nothing new here, and it can be a little disappointing. There is nothing there that has not been seen or read before. There is almost a checklist the author goes down, cancer story and coming of age cliches he makes sure he hits. First is the obvious young girl with cancer in love. Check out 1970’s Love Story. The Fault in Our Stars even peppers in some dirty language, just like the earlier book. There’s even a millennial version of “love means never having to say your sorry” in Hazel and Augustus’s “Okay? Okay.” Hazel takes a misguided trip to track down the heroine’s favorite author. Look to 1994’s My Girl 2, where that film’s plucky heroine tracks down her own favorite author, only to be rebuffed in the same way that Hazel was. Even when the scenes were not derivative, there were other problems. When Hazel and Augustus share their first kiss, the location is mind-blowing. At the Anne Frank House, in front of a video of Otto Frank talking about how he never really knew the real Anne. As a wise man once said, “Parents of the world just don’t understand.” After the kiss, instead of being ignored by people visiting a monument to genocide, the crowd around them breaks into applause, like people are wont to do when seeing strangers engages in inappropriate public displays of affection. In a museum. Dedicated to a girl who died in the Holocaust. It really is as stupid as it sounds.
An adult reading The Fault in Our Stars will see the faults in The Fault in Our Stars almost immediately. The truth is, kids will not care. Part of the joys of young adulthood is discovering your own thing, and The Fault in Our Stars is certainly of the moment. So, while adults may find things to scoff at (Seriously, making out at the Anne Frank Museum? There’s a Seinfeld episode those kids need to watch), teenagers will love it. It will be the summer of “Okay.”
Review by Bryan Levy
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green- print version