07 February 2012

The Fault in Our Stars (And a Lot of Crying)

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (January 10, 2012, Dutton Juvenile)
review by Laura Beutler, Bailey Kelsey, Kelly Lucas, and Kenzie Helene

When we join our valiant heroines, they are bent over their various computer screens. Laura is crunching on saltine toffees, her laptop sticky with chocolate. Bailey is pulling out chunks of her hair, trying to master all of the things. Kenzie is preparing for the batch of crazysauce college will serve up to her, and Kelly is...still at work. And then later, she comes home. But still. Their reading is done, and now it is time to talk The Fault in Our Stars, John Green’s much-awaited new novel.

Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumors in her lungs... for now.

Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumors tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.

Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.

It would be impossible to have a full discussion of The Fault in Our Stars without actually DISCUSSING it, which means spoilers. So, if you have not read the book yet, tread no further!

What did we think?

Kenzie: So...TFiOS was awesome. Usually, when I wait months and months for a book, it can never live up to my internal hype. But this one was the first that did.

Laura: It really did. And it wasn’t even a little bit what I thought it would be. It was surprising and fantastic.

Bailey: I think John Green outdid himself. This is better than his previous books, and I’m not saying he can’t write a better book than TFiOS, but if he does, daaaang!

Laura: YES.

Bailey: I’m probably going to be smacked by all of you for this, but this was the first John Green book I actually thought was worth any of the excessive hype it got.

Laura: *SMACKS*

Kelly: John will continue to write better and better books. It shocks me every time, but he will.

Bailey: I mean, before now, I thought he was a good writer, but I didn’t really get the cult following.

Laura: I can’t speak for the hype, because I had read all John Green’s books before I had heard anything resembling hype. I read Paper Towns first and LOVED it. Then I met him at a conference and heard him speak. Then I read all his other books and loved them ALL. But still, I agree with you, B. John completely outdid himself with TFiOS.

Kenzie: The writing was gorgeous, to the point that I can understand some people’s critique that it was too perfect, making it a bit unrealistic.

Bailey: That’s ridiculous.

Laura: I second that, Bailey.

Kenzie: I know not one teenager who talks like that.

Laura: I did when I was Hazel’s age.

Bailey: It was not “too perfect” or “unrealistic.” Besides, it’s still fiction, and in fiction, I like to believe we are capable of more than we might be in real life, like, say, beautiful prose.

Laura: Hear, hear!

Bailey: Perhaps now 16 year-olds will think it’s possible to be 16 AND eloquent, and try to be. Fiction should strike a balance between showing truth and showing us how much more we can achieve, and how much better we can be as humans (through a series of failures and overcoming adversity and personal flaws).

Laura: I think I will let  Bailey speak for me from now on, as she seems to have a direct line to my thoughts.

Bailey: There was a beautiful balance between eloquence and a bit of defeatism from Hazel Grace.

Kelly: Is it odd to say that I didn’t even notice it? I just took that as who she was. She spent a lot of time in hospitals and by herself reading. She and Augustus were bound to be wise beyond their years.

 Laura: I didn’t really notice it until Kenzie mentioned it. It seemed natural to me.

Kenzie: I only noticed when I went on Amazon and saw some one star reviews. The idea of giving it only one star confused me so much that I needed to read them and see what they had to say.

Bailey: This all only confirms my original judgment: ridiculous.

 

Why all the crying?


Laura: I have never cried so hard while reading a book before IN MY LIFE. My vision was OBSCURED by tears. I had to take eye-drying breaks, I cried so much. It was the WRITING. I never cry at the “sad” parts of books. I cry when the writing is so perfect, it touches my soul.

Kenzie: I cried...not that much, but it is really hard to make me cry at all. There were points where I lost my breath at the writing and had to close the book for a few moments as my mind recited the passages. It kind of makes me want to give up writing, because John Green is SO GOOD.

Laura: I had to take breaks for the thinking over of beautiful things. There were a lot of breaks.

Kelly: He definitely inspires me to write better and more eloquently. I cried at the littlest things. My cousin battled her own lung-effected disease, so I recognized a lot of treatments. My cousin was on a BiPap for years and had to carry around a tank of oxygen. That made me cry. I probably cried for 200 of the 313 pages.

Bailey: I cry at everything so, unfortunately for John, that’s really not an amazing accomplishment. But it was a very real sort of crying. A deep, impressionable crying.

 

THIS is our favorite (aside from the saltine toffees)


Kenzie: I liked Hazel’s lungs. My lungs are bad, so I was like, YES. What was your favorite small detail of the book?

Laura: I always love good food scenes, so I loved Hazel and Augustus’ dinner. And I loved Hazel’s speech at the pre-funeral funeral in the Literal Heart of Jesus, where she uses math as a metaphor for the infinite in everyday life*. I loved that so much. That was the defining moment for me, the one think I felt like everyone was supposed to take from TFiOS.

Kelly: That is beautiful.

Kenzie: I think my favorite part was the book that John made up AND QUOTED FROM because he is just so insane.

Laura: The book within the book! That was epic!
Kelly: I loved how the little things made it so REAL, like the texting.

Laura: And the part where Hazel talks about people in Indiana being optimistic about spring? That is TOTALLY TRUE. People were in tank tops and shorts last week, because the temperature had reached all of 50 degrees.

Bailey: I liked... the whole book. But you guys probably want one thing I liked most of all... egging Monica's car. Really, Isaac’s life might be my favorite sub-plot story from any novel.

Laura: The egging was a great moment. It really was.

 

On the ending...


Kelly: I absolutely loved TFiOS, until page 214, when Gus tells Hazel he’s sick again. I literally threw the book.

Laura: That was one thing I saw coming from the first meeting. I thought, “One of our star-crossed lovers will die...and I’m betting it’s going to be Gus. @#*$&#.” There may have been some NAUGHTY WORDS at the end of that sentence.

Kenzie: When he said he “lit up like a Christmas tree,” I basically died.

Laura: That was a heart-wrenching moment. It was as if, suddenly, all the air is knocked out of you.

Bailey: I think a big part of my brain always knew it was going to be Augustus Waters, but it was desperately trying not to think that.

Kelly: I was the same, I didn’t want it to be Gus. I could have dealt with it being Hazel, but not Gus. I cried for the final 100 pages in the early morning hours (this is really not unusual).

Laura: As I read the book, I was clinging to each paragraph, because I knew that my time with the characters would be so short, either due to the end of the book or the end of one of their lives.

Kenzie: Part of me thought that when he talked about how Hazel’s favorite book ended in the middle of a sentence, like real life, that was how he was going to end TFiOS.

Laura: The more Hazel and Gus brought up the midsentence thing, the more I thought it WOULDN’T happen at the end of the book, but it WOULD happen to one of them.

Bailey: I did like that the ending still had the feel of “in the middle of something,” (in Hazel’s case, in the middle of life and living) but was not in the middle of a sentence. I thought the parallel was still very strong and appropriate.

Overall Impressions


Kenzie: TFIOS has quickly become a member of my favorites list, along others like Jellicoe Road and Perks of Being a Wallflower. It’s a book that I know I will reread multiple times, which I normally never do. The only regret I have is that I couldn’t make it to the Tour de Nerdfighting to get my copy Hanklerfished. 

Bailey: When I move, TFiOS will have a very covetted spot on my “Favorites” bookshelf in my bedroom. Green’s other novels will glower at TFiOS from the living room/other bedroom shelves/possibly a closet (not just any closet because I don’t put books in closets, really; my new apartment has an EXTRA walk-in closet I’m considering converting into a small, and kind of dark, library). And, undoubtedly, I will have a good cry every time I visit Hazel, Augustus, and Amsterdam. 

Kelly: While I thought TFiOS was beautiful, I don’t think I will EVER read it EVER again. This book hit home for me in many aspects and made me cry constantly. I’m so mad at John for killing Gus and... I don’t know if I can forgive him for that. It’s just like JKR killing Sirius all over again**. I didn’t love this book. I hated it. I still recommend that people should read it and John is still my favorite author. But I hated it. And I hate how many good quotes lie within these pages.

Laura: I loved TFiOS. It made me laugh, it made me cry...and it made me go through a whole Kleenex box in a single week. And while I admit, in retrospect, telling John Green via Twitter that I was going to hurl said Kleenex box in his general direction as payback for all the crying was maybe not cool, it was all part of the process. Hazel talks about the infinite...and I would say that is what reading TFiOS felt like for me, like glimpsing the infinite. And yes, it has a beautiful spot on my Favorites shelf, sandwiched between John’s earlier works and When You Reach Me by Gayle Forman.


*That would be on page 260, folks.
**Bailey would like to say, “Oh my gosh, yes!” to this, but add nothing will ever be worse ever than killing Remus & Tonks OFF PAGE.

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