I am so suspicious of new authors. I mean, all authors are new until you try them, but I got burnt not too long ago, so it’s taken me a while to try some new writers. Lauren Oliver promised me the world with her amazing debut novel Before I Fall. It was different, it didn’t have the Hollywood ending that so many promising novels end up delivering, and our protagonist actually experienced proper character growth. I fell in love with Oliver’s words. And then came the Delirium trilogy. Oliver promised me the world. She promised me a tragic love story, existential debate, and beautiful characters in that first book. And she did not deliver. Not even a little bit.
Seriously, steer clear of Delirium.
John Green came highly, and widely, recommended. I went into the book shop with a friend of mine back in Brisbane. I picked up The Fault in Our Stars and then put it back down, a thoughtful frown on my face.
“Seriously, you should read it,” she told me.
But you know what cinched it for me? Knowing it was going to be made into a movie. Not the actual fact that the book was being transferred to the silver screen. Hollywood’s been out of ideas for years now and so doesn’t even bother coming up with original film ideas anymore. (Well, who can blame them? After Sharknado and that Beverly Hills Chihuahua….).
No, it was the book snob in me. I want the right to be able to say that the book is better than the movie. I want to know that for a fact going in. I didn’t have that chance with Hunger Games. So here was my chance to redeem myself.
The Fault in Our Stars is missing one very important thing: someone to hug at the end of it. I read those last words,
I do, Augustus.
lifted my gaze and realised that anyone I might have been able to hug was dead asleep. Why the hell did I leave all my bears up north?
This story was never going to be a happy one. It was always going to be bittersweet. Our heroine, Hazel Lancaster, had terminal cancer. She met a boy, Augustus Waters, who had beaten osteosarcoma, his friend who had cancer in his eyes, and Hazel had already come to terms with the fact that she was going to leave her parents alone in the world. For such a bleak story, John Green managed to find a beautiful, off-key way of telling it to us. We have two of the strangest main characters I have ever read. And yes, this includes fantasy. I have never read anyone quite like either of them. And no, I am not talking about their cancer. Cancer’s a part of their lives, but they’ve tried really hard not to let cancer define them. Even though the cancer has meant that Hazel tugs an oxygen tank along with her and Augustus has a prosthetic leg.
I loved their witty banter and the way they can make anything seem extraordinary. They made out at Anne Frank’s house and were cheered for it. They made writing an ad to sell an old swing set flirtatious. They made statues into metaphors. They made phone calls into their own slice of time and space. Everything these two said was utterly quotable. Augustus with his heroism and Hazel with her existential “oblivion is irrelevant” argument.
“You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice.”
But just before the halfway point, their differentness became pretentious. They bounced back a few pages later, but at that point it got too much for me. I can’t even quite remember what it was. It may have been their debate about Peter Van Houten, their favourite author, or it could have just been their dialogue. It gets to be too much sometimes. Unless that’s how all the hipsters talk to each other and I’m just too mainstream to get it. Like this for example:
“All salvation is temporary,” Augustus shot back. “I bought them a minute. Maybe that minute buys them an hour, which is the hour that buys them a year. No one’s gonna buy them forever, Hazel Grace, but my life bought them a minute. And that’s not nothing.”
In a book such as this, you’d think Augustus was talking about donating an organ or something. But no, he’s talking about being shot in a video game. And seriously? Who talks like that? But, again, maybe I’m just not hipster enough to understand. They do call John Green king of the hipsters.
I liked the character of Kaitlyn. Not for herself, because she annoyed the hell out of me, but for what she represented. She appeared at the very beginning and the very end of the novel. She missed everything. She missed the Augustus-and-Hazel romance, the Isaac drama, and the twist at the end that left me aching with tears waiting to be shed. She was the representation of the friends who are friends in name only. They don’t stay for the pain, the messiness, the reality of living. They stay for the fun stuff. The fair weather. What was brilliant about Kaitlyn’s character was that it was so seamlessly done. There’s no time for Kaitlyn in the middle of the story. There is only room for her at the bookends. Hazel doesn’t even mention her, so we don’t feel like she’s missing until her blonde hair crops up at the very end.
I both loved and hated the twist. And I can’t talk about it without spoilers. So if you haven’t read this book, I suggest you skip the next bit. I’ll let you know, in bold, when it’s safe for you to join back in.
“Just before you went into the ICU, I started to feel this ache in my hip.”
“No,” I said. Panic rolled in, pulled me under.
He nodded. “So I went in for a PET scan.” He stopped.
He flashed his crooked smile, then said, “I lit up like a Christmas tree, Hazel Grace. The lining of my chest, my left hip, my liver, everywhere.”
And it is all downhill from there. The Augustus who let his broken-hearted friend smash his, Augustus’, basketball trophies for the satisfying crash it would make was gone. His metaphorical outlook on life and his crooked, slightly archaic way of talking disintegrated as his body succumbed to the cancer that he had beaten in the first round.
…this was the truth, a pitiful boy who desperately wanted not to be pitiful, screaming and crying, poisoned by an infected G-tube that kept him alive, but not alive enough.
We lose him. And not really that close to the end. We read through pages and pages of grief. Of the real funeral, of Isaac and Hazel hanging out, trying to be normal. Of Hazel trying to ensure her parents will have a life after her. All the while Hazel is trying to find the last thing Augustus ever wrote to her. I was crying the whole time, and there was at least a chapter and a half’s worth of pages there. It was the worst kind of irony. Hazel was worried about hurting Augustus, when it was Augustus who left his scar on her.
The worst part is, we know it won’t be for long. The book ends so that we know, as readers, what happens to Hazel’s parents, her stoic mother and her weeping father, when Hazel passes. We get the impression that Hazel doesn’t survive for long outside of the pages of the story and that is the worst part. Everything’s tied up in a nice bow of funereal black.
THOSE OF YOU SCARED OF SPOILERS, IT’S SAFE TO COME BACK NOW!
The Peter Van Houten subplot was lovely. He was Hazel’s “third best friend” until she met Augustus. His book, An Imperial Affliction was her bible. And then, when [mini spoiler] Augustus and Hazel go to Amsterdam to meet him, he turns out to be a drunken douchebag. I may have thought our dream team got a bit too much in parts, but Van Houten took the cake. I loved it. He was so awful. He had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He reduces his assistant to tears and the way he treats Augustus and Hazels leds her to quit on the spot. He pokes fun at cancer, which isn’t really made any better when we find out where he got the inspiration for An Imperial Affliction from. There is nothing to make this person likeable and I love John Green for that. All too often it feels necessary to make sure people love your characters, or at least fascinated by them. But very rarely you come across a character so repulsive that you increase your reading speed just to get away from them.
Even his showing up at the end was completely odious, because Van Houten only showed up for selfish reasons. Point taken, Mr. Green, never meet your heroes. I have a very strong feeling that Green met one of his heroes at some point during his life and the experience sucked. I reckon that the Van Houten thing was a bit of a revenge fantasy, in a roundabout way.
There’s so much more I could say, but I think I’ll sum it up like this: I will definitely be reading Paper Towns.
Oh, and here’s the trailer for The Fault in Our Stars: