The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is another one of those books that have sat on my “to be read” list for too long, and every time I saw it I though, “Ack, why I haven’t I read that yet?” But, unlike some of the other more hyped up books I’ve read recently (like The Help), this one really didn’t live up to the hype for me. Which is a big disappointment because I have friends who really, really loved this book and I wanted to really, really love it too.
I’ve struggled to voice why I didn’t love it. I think it comes down to what I perceive as emotional manipulation. Possibly borderline emotional blackmail. “This story is about cancer kids who suffer terribly and sometimes die. It is sad and you will cry.” Listen, I don’t mind cancer/disease/illness related stories. I don’t even mind death in those stories. It is just the intent of the journey that matters to me. This is why I LOVED the movie Phenomenon and HATED the movie A Walk to Remember. Phenomenon is so. much. more. than a movie about a man who dies of a brain tumor. Indeed, that is barely what the movie is about at all. I wept in the end, but I actually wept because I’d felt something for the characters and about the story long before I even knew anyone was sick. The sickness wasn’t a catalyst or a tool used to get me invested in the story. A Walk to Remember was all about a teenage boy trying to help a teenage girl fit in a lifetime of experiences before she dies from something or other (I don’t remember what her ailment was). Which is, of course, impossible and mostly just came across as trite and clearly was made with the intent of making the audience weepy. I knew I was supposed to feel sad, but mostly I just felt like it was all kind of pointless. I was only supposed to feel something for this teenage couple because one of them had a terminal illness. The death march was not enough character development for me.
And, sadly, I feel like The Fault in Our Stars was more in the A Walk to Remember category. I think I was supposed to feel for these characters because of their illness. I don’t feel like I was ever introduced to the characters beyond their sickness. I was never given a reason to identify with them outside that frame. At one point the characters are actually even talking about their desire to not live a life entirely framed by cancer. I couldn’t help but think that this story would actually be so much better if it weren’t entirely framed by cancer. And, heaven help me, when Augustus was first introduced I said to myself, “If Green has chosen the most obvious plot twist with this character I am going to hate this book.” Of course, that is exactly the road Green took us down.
I will say this, I didn’t end up entirely hating the book. After thinking about it for a few days (I couldn’t bring myself to write up the review right away) I decided it is not entirely without merit. I appreciated the insight into how people approach their own mortality. When you face something like cancer, that is often fatal, it IS going to force you to view the world, and your life, more existentially. And if you’ve never been sick, and you’ve never had to think in those terms, I think it can be very beneficial to examine that frame of mind. So, I appreciated that this book took us down that path and spent a lot of time examining that facet of getting sick. I just think we could have gotten to the same destination without all of the emotional blackmail.
I will say this, though: the characters were funny. I may not have been super emotionally invested in them, but they made me laugh a lot. I appreciate some clever banter.
I give it: