'The Fault in our Stars' is successful American teen author John Green's latest offering, after the successful 'Paper Towns', 'An Abundance of Katherines' and 'Looking For Alaska'. The books are only started to have mainstream popularity here in the UK over the past couple of months but 'The Fault in our Stars' has had a big impact on the bookselling market, and as I understand, is doing very well on both sides of the pond.
Not being a huge reader of teen fiction, I've read a couple of Green's earlier books, and enjoyed them but much in the same way as I enjoyed 'Perks of being a Wallflower' - they were okay, had interesting plots, but sometimes they tried too hard to be 'about' the things that affect teenagers - drugs, drink, cigarettes and sex. In this regard, they're 'Skins'-like. But this novel was massively refreshing, very moving, and enjoyable in its own right, and not as a 'teen book' , though I do realise it's very good for its genre.
The book is exactly what I would have wanted to read as a teenager, with characters that are witty, well rounded and easy to associate with. Without spoiling you, the book is funny, heartfelt, surprising, heart-warming and Hazel's story is brought to life vividly and effortlessly by Green. The strength of the writing is unmistakeable - some of the lines are so pitch-perfect, in tone and observation that it is a shame this will only be featured in the teen section of a bookshop.
In 'The Fault in our Stars', Green manages to make observations about the value of life and the value of time mightily succinctly and is able to swing wildly between black comedy, romance and grief with such a deft touch. Everything in the book is multi-layered, themed and inter-linking. The title itself comes from a beautiful line from the Bard's 'Julius Caesar', and the motif of stars is one of my favourite in the novel, used to explore destiny, fate, death and the bright light of happiness. But what would take most authors a long and arduous process of re-evaluation and editing, the book and its completeness flows in a way where it seems as if Green could just be speaking the story aloud to you as he writes.
Many of the faults of other cancer pieces, and ironically the praise for this one, stems from other mediums 'allowing people to be saved' or 'not showing the harsh reality of the disease'. To say this is to share that you've had a narrow exposure to the cancer-focused work out there. Films like '50/50' and TV such as 'The Big C' (both excellent and worth a viewing) show a harsh depiction of the disease, and we are shown in no uncertain terms how the fatality of cancer destroys relationships. It is possible that this is one of the first teen books to be so explicit, in which case it should be lauded for its achievement in the field. But, Green is not the first author to write about cancer and 'include the bad bits', he is just another to do it in a different way. It would be wrong to let Nerdfighter fangirling rubbish the achievements of other pieces of work.
Things that struck me upon reading 'TFioS' were: the importance of the family unit and friendships, the importance of enjoying life, and a stress on our limited 'infinity' of time on the earth. In Hazel's words, 'Everything that we did and built and wrote and thought and discovered will be forgotten and all of this... will have been for naught'. In contrast though, the novel stresses the importance that we just keep going, and shows the excellent things - love, friendship, books - that we can enjoy in life. And I think this is an excellent message not just for teens, but for all of us. Well done, John Green.