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Jocelyn (The Reading World)

I love to read and can get very attached to my opinions, but recently I've been learning not to completely lose my head when people disagree with me, so feel safe to argue with me whenever you wish ;) 


The Fault in Our Stars - John Green

Reading experience can be summed up in a series of haphazard expectations and results:

Expectation No. 1: This, unfortunately, has nothing to do with the book and requires a brief and unapologetically boring backstory. For the last four months, I've been readingThree Kingdoms, which has 2,000 pages of text in quite a teeny font, with 200 pages of footnotes in an even teenier font. From October through November, I read Moby-Dick,with 400 pages of text in an even teenier-than-teenier-than teeny font, with dozens of footnotes in a still teenier font than all aforementioned fonts. Needless to say I was starting to fear for my eyesight. Both were worthwhile reads, but I was starting to die for a good old 300 page YA novel that does NOT all but require a magnifying glass or excessive amounts of slouching to read.

Result No. 1: Yay! TFiOS excelled on this level. Nice sized margins, thick pages, 1.5 spacing and a heart-warmingly big font size. For this reason the first 100 pages were a pleasure to read. Oh, I tried to be a critical reader. But I just lost myself in such an aesthetically pleasing (to me) wall of text that those pages simply passed by. It helped that Green's writing style has a very everyday feel to it, nice combination of the internal and the external, so it was almost like meditating.

Once the sheer novelty of not having to squint my eyes wore off, however...

Expectation No. 2: I came to this book with the knowledge that it made a lot of its readers cry. Which made me think to myself, well, what makes me cry? A lot of things, but also a lot of not-things. Chief of which is emotional manipulation, and I prepared internally to bring the hammer--nay, guillotine--down hard if John Green dared to compromise his authorial integrity with cheap tear-jerking.

Result No. 2: More questions than answers.

The emotional structure of the book is something like this: Hazel starts out with the expectation that she's going to die. The irony is that the majority of the book's grief comes from Augustus's death, not Hazel's, which essentially shifts her from the position of victim to...I don't know what to call it. Bystander? Survivor? This puts a questionable spin on the book's sense of thematic resolution, because--if you think about it--the closest perspective the ending resembles is that of Hazel's parents: what it's like to lose someone to cancer, with less emphasis on what it's like to die of cancer, or to know that you're dying of cancer.

And at first, just thinking about it made me sulk a little, because I was like "no, you're not supposed to dodge around the question like that." However, it seems to me that it's much more to show that cancer victims aren't always victims, that they can, in fact, change roles and go through the same things that non-cancer-victims do, specifically that of experiencing the loss of a loved one. In this way I viewed Augustus's deathas a sort of catharsis, a form of the highest possible comfort that a cancer victim can gain in the face of their own life being so quickly taken away from them in the future--to have the loss of their own life be outweighed by the death of someone else.

In the end, I'm going to say that it does provide a fairly satisfying circular closure. A quote from the book sums it up quite perfectly: "Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you." One of those few lines that, surprisingly, is actually pretty spot-on as a comment on the book's portrayal of human experience and links back to the beginning quite nicely.

(show spoiler)

Expectation No. 3: Target audience. I don't read a lot of contemporary fiction. The main reason why I gravitate towards fantasy and historical fiction is because I tend to love anything that evokes the past, the imagination. Still, I was getting tired of being the last person on the planet to have read this book, and I tried to summon up every ounce of emotional energy to enjoy it as best I could.

Result No. 3: The section I savored the most was the part set in Amsterdam. Correct me if I'm wrong as I've never been there, but it looks like John Green did his research, and it paid off with some pleasant sensory details. Very sparsely descriptive, but just enough to form pretty images of the canals, Gus and Hazel's romantic dinner, the residents going about their everyday lives and speaking in Dutch. Rather idyllic, but that's no surprise from a tourist's point of view. One of the simple pleasures of reading is that you get to visit places without having to actually travel there, and I managed to find that even here.

Three stars for an average, somewhat-ish thoughtful read.