The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
So I'm going to one-sentence this book, and you guys are going to make The Face, which I also made, for the record, and then we're going to talk about the ways it's great.
This is a book about Hazel, who Is sixteen and terminally ill, and the boy she meets at support group.
*Pause for The Face*
So it's a book about being young and being sick. And also being in love, but honestly that part was by far the least interesting to me, so we're basically skipping it. Because for me, this was a book about being young and being sick, and it was great
. Around the time three disabled characters shared a scene together with no able-bodied characters present, and they sat around and discussed their love lives? Yeah. I was like holy shit
, right, because I have read a lot of books, okay, and a lot of books about disabled people, and I have never
seen such a thing. Ever.
I'm actually selling this book short by talking about it like that. This book gets at the experience of chronic pain in such casual, tangential, brilliant
ways. And it gets the ebb and flow of illness, the way you just have to ride with it. And it is a bold-faced, no fucking around, passionate argument to the world that people with disabilities and people who are dying are still human beings. Which is absolutely something that we need to argue about, because for almost everyone I have ever met, illness or disability puts you in a box marked other
in ways conscious but mostly subliminal. This book gets
most of those ways – the infantilization, the way people eulogize before and after death, so much of it. And to see a book – and a very popular book – arguing the other way to teenagers, of all people, with conviction and clarity (and a startling lack of treakly bullshit) was pretty amazing for me.
I was far less impressed with this book as a story. One of the other things it's doing is cutting at this notion of disability and illness as metaphor. I don't know how many times I have shouted at a book or the TV about this. Disability isn't a metaphor for moral decay, or the dangers of industrialized society, or, I don't know, the fatal flaw of the human race. And it's not a learning experience, and it's not a gateway to wisdom. It's just disability. It's a thing that happens. It's chance. And as one character puts it in this book, "it's bullshit." I'd modify that to chance bullshit, but yeah, pretty much.
So the book is arguing about how disability isn't a narrative device. It spends a lot of time making fun of 'cancer books' where illness is the gateway to one heartwarming epiphany after another. But then this book turns around and delivers a plot designed to lead the protagonist through a series of epiphanies concerning what she wants out of the rest of her life, how she can make peace with her [parents and the hurt she will leave behind, etc. And it just . . . I didn't need that. And I didn't want it. This book could have been a series of days, it could still even have been a love story, and as long as it kept on about being young and being sick, I would have thought it was great. Everything else felt contrived to me, and particularly in light of the explicit arguments of the book.
Also, is John Green physically capable of writing a book in which no one ever takes a transformative road trip? Because honestly….
So yeah. Basically it's great on the page-by-page level. And I am so so glad
this book was written and that it's doing so well. (Though the day a disabled author gets to write a book about disabled characters to international acclaim will be the day I'm truly
impressed). And yes, it will make a lot of you cry. And I really did love it, even though his characters are beginning to sound pathologically witty to me after only two books. But I actually would have enjoyed this book more if it had less 'book' in it.View all my reviews