If you haven’t heard of John Green or his latest book, The Fault In Our Stars, I’m not sure where you’ve been for the last year or so. This book has become one of those “cult favourites” we all hear so much about and has also recently been released as a film with the same name. This blog is going to contain spoilers so if you haven’t read the book or seen the film and you want to then I suggest you stop reading now.
I saw TFiOS when I was in the US a few weeks ago. It came out in the UK just over a week ago and I’m planning to go see it again next week. Whilst the film is good, it’s not fantastic. It’s an accurate depiction of the parts of the story that it included and I’m aware that John Green himself is very happy with it but the film became what the book never was; a cancer story.
I’ve been long defending TFiOS, the book. Because I’m 21 it’s apparently strange for me to like this book as much as I do because it’s classed as “Young Adult Fiction”. That’s odd to me for a couple of reasons, the first one being I never realised I was an “old adult” and the second one is when did we start judging people on the literature they read? Are you better than me because you just read ‘The Picture of Dorian Grey’ whilst I just finished reading TFiOS for the nth time? Because I’ve read that book too. Sorry.
If you don’t like TFiOS, that’s cool. Glad you’ve got your own opinion on something! However, I feel that some of the critics are selling it short and by doing so are selling teenagers short. I’ll include a quick synopsis for those who haven’t read the book and don’t intend to.
The Fault In Our Stars is a book written from the perspective of Hazel Grace Lancaster. Hazel is 16 years old and has Stage 4 Thyroid cancer with metastasis in the lungs. She has an obsession with a (fictitious outside of TFiOS) book called An Imperial Affliction because she connects with it and she feels that the author ‘gets’ her situation. She meets Augustus Waters in a cancer support group for kids and teenagers that her mother and doctor force her to attend. Augustus is a 17 year old who lost his leg to osteosarcoma and is in remission (we’re led to believe). They have an interesting relationship that is not quite romantic but both sides want it to be however Hazel describes herself as a “grenade” and explains she doesn’t want to get close to people because they’ll be hurt when she explodes (in non metaphor terms, dies). Gus dies as his cancer has been found to return and Hazel is left pondering her grenade theory amongst the other things that come with losing your significant other, no matter what age you are when it happens.
One of the main criticisms about this book is the language that Hazel and Augustus use. John Green is criticised for writing characters that don’t actually exist in the real world. “These teenagers are too smart and speak too eloquently to be REAL teenagers!” the cries come. “These characters aren’t relatable because we haven’t dealt with life threatening illnesses!” The list goes on. I’ve met kids like Hazel and Gus. I’ve BEEN a kid like them in regards to their language and how they act. I have friends who spoke like these characters do. By saying that Hazel and Gus aren’t “real characters” you’re selling millions of teenagers short and trying to put them in a box of your own understanding. I feel like those who claim this are scared of how intelligent teenagers actually are. Yet, we put them down and belittle them and tell them they’re not as smart as they think. Or we call them cocky or arrogant for using a more diverse vocabulary. Nothing is more embarrassing than an adult not understanding a word a teenager uses, right? Wrong. We’ve got to encourage, not discourage these individuals.
I’m also apparently under some kind of “John Green veil” that happens when you read a book by him for the first time. Except, TFiOS wasn’t the first book by him that I read. Not even close. But I’m so blinded by this book that I can’t see the fact that he has apparently written the same story over and over again. Do his books have similarities? Yes. I’m not disputing that claim. But they have similarities in the same way that any book by Jodi Picoult has similarities or a book by Roald Dahl or Terry Pratchet. You find these similarities because it’s the same person and the same brain behind them.
As for the not relating to the characters because you don’t have cancer? That’s possibly the most bizarre argument I’ve heard to date. Do you not relate to any of the characters in your beloved Harry Potter because you’re not a wizard? Possibly you don’t relate to anyone in The Hunger Games because you’re not being forced to compete in a fight to the death by your government. I bet you can’t relate to anyone in the Chronicles of Narnia stories because you’ve never met a talking lion either!
I’ve said it once and I’ll stay it again: The Fault In Our Stars is not a cancer story. The second you start thinking of it as such, you’ve lost the point of the story entirely. At one point in the book Augustus asks Hazel to tell him her story and she starts telling him about her cancer, to which he responds “Not your cancer story. Your real story.” You get the impression that this is the first time in a long time, if ever, someone has taken interest in her for more than just her condition. It’s one of the main moments in the story that you get the message that people have cancer, cancer doesn’t have people. These people are real. They want what anyone that doesn’t have cancer wants and in many ways they’re being denied that because of their condition. Maybe I related to that point more than most because of the times people have tried to stop me doing what I wanted because of my mental health or wanted to know about depression/anxiety/self harm and not me. I feel like TFiOS is about giving humanity back to those who society dehumanises. We dehumanise cancer patients and most of the time it’s not apparent. We dehumanise those that we don’t really want to accept because they don’t conform to our idea of “normal”. TFiOS doesn’t glamorise cancer and if you read that from it I don’t know how you got there. It goes into some extreme detail about what certain cancer patients suffer. If anyone has read this book and thought to themselves “I wish I had cancer” then I think they need some immediate psychiatric attention because that’s not a healthy thing to think.
It’s incredibly difficult to try and defend a cult favourite when you’re not coming from the view point of most of the people who enjoy it. I don’t like TFiOS for the love story. I don’t wish Augustus Waters was a real person. Augustus is pretentious, and he’s meant to be. He’s meant to be putting up a front to cover up the fact he’s a scared 17 year old who had cancer, lost his leg, and then the cancer came back. That’s why he comes across as uncomfortably upfront sometimes. The very first time he meets Hazel he tells her he fears oblivion. He wants to be remembered by millions and knows that isn’t going to happen and that scares him. He doesn’t want his early death to be meaningless, which really makes Hazel mad because it isn’t going to be meaningless.
I could write forever about this book. But I won’t. Like I said, I understand that not everyone likes everything and if you don’t like TFiOS then you’re more than entitled to think that. But at the same time, you don’t have a right to belittle anyone who enjoys it. In either it’s book or film form.
“Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.”
John Green, The Fault In Our Stars.