Lauren Fidler's Reviews > The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
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i need to write this now, when the book is still raw, before i forget the minutiae and the emotion as i get suckered into another text. there will probably be spoilers, i fear. i've never been good at self-censoring, particularly in book reviews. read at your own risk.

first, in full disclosure: i was a little disappointed in the pre-ordering of this novel. yes, i dreamt of yetis and hanklerfishes, but moreover, i dreamt that i'd actually get to read the book on its release date. or thereabouts. instead, three days later, the book arrived, to the wrong address, and with no additional signatures to ease the blow of such a monumental disappointment.

alas, there's an old adage about beggars and choosers that i'm conveniently forgetting here.

still, i decided not to let that pepper my review negatively. it is, after all, not john green's novel's fault that it couldn't arrive in a timely fashion with multiple autographs.


i pre-ordered TFiOS solely based on the simple precept that i happen to enjoy the way john green crafts intelligent teenagers. yes, i find him formulaic, or, more specifically, that, like shakespeare he has types and blueprints that he constantly reimagines for his own purposes (eclectically named teenager - usually male, but here, finally, like pixar, female, road trip in search of some deep-rooted universal truth, highly literary in scope and reference, crude humor at times usually involving urine, the all-encompassing power of teen love, girl with weird colored nail polish, etc, etc) but i also find him enjoyable. he writes the way i wish people talked. his characters love the way i wish love felt.

so, to say that i was surprised to be reading a book about terminal cancer within the opening pages is a bit of an understatement.

maybe i should have been tipped off by the praise from jodi piccoult that this book wasn't necessarily going to be light and fluffy.

not that green favors fluff, but that, generally, there's hope and happiness somewhere towards the end of it all.

death lingers here, a bad feeling you can never quite shake off. it's everywhere. in your face. behind each word, each action. it's both imminent and remote, which gives a sort of claustrophobic and tragic aura, even in the funny moments.

and there are funny moments here. most of the cancer perks, particularly ones involving augustus's driver's license, are incredibly funny. it's all the typical quick-witted snark and banter of a john green novel, just with the omnipresent threat that these could be the last words this character says.

in terms of dealing with life and death, the philosophical bent of the text works well; these aren't kids to pity but to fall in love with. and that's pretty special. my chief complaints are this:

1. i saw very easily where we were headed here and it pissed me off immensely. i'm not sure what the intended purpose of the finality of the story was, but, to me, it spoke to the inherent unfairness of life and to the simple fact that one man's oblivion is another man's infinity. it's beautiful in theory but in reality it sucks as a bitter pill to have to swallow.

2. the fake epigraph. this immediately bristled. i'm a recent convert to the altar of gatsby and i felt that the made-up epigraph spoke to a much more subtle and subversive motif in that text. here, when one of the characters inevitably brings up gatsby, i sort of wanted to groan, sigh disgustedly, and spit out, "what a load of horse crap, eh, kid?"

3. and, while we're on that subject, let's talk about peter van houten, the pickled author of said fake quote. we had potential here for salinger-esque greatness, but what we got was sad, hollowed out banality. of course he has a tragic connection to his own staggering work of genius, of course he can't give the children what they need/want from him, and of course he cannot possibly make better a situation that is only, by its inherent definition, getting worse. so what's the point? his addition felt extraneous and incomplete, and, worse, it only served to point out the cruelness of both hazel's and gus's lives. and maybe life in general. he wasn't a beacon of hope. he wasn't even a beacon of inspiration. he was a mediocre man posing as this literary genius but nothing about him seemed to merit such acclaim. i just didn't get him.

4. the weak understanding of the term "hamartia" - look, i get it. john green is very smart. and he writes characters that are also very smart (it's one of the reasons i read him - for, as improbable as they are, i hope for a future filled with more kids who memorize william carlos williams for fun). so it's incredibly disappointing to see them espouse a definition of hamartia that is far more over-simplified than it should be (and echoed later by the superfluous peter van houten in the same simplistic vein). hamartia, in the classic aristotelian understanding, is meant to be more than merely "fatal flaw" as it gets defined here. it is a mistake or wrongdoing brought about in some capacity by said flaw (i.e. when hamlet, in an out-of-character act of rashness, stabs a decorative wall hanging and murders polonius). yes, it is a minor complaint, but, if green is going to insist on creating such preciously insightful teenagers, please make sure they are thorough in their understanding of literary terminology.

for me, this is solidly 3.5 stars. i laughed, i cried, i would have cried a little harder but the children were watching. and maybe there's something beautifully morose about confronting the tragic fragility of life once in awhile to actually remind yourself how to live.

i just wouldn't want to do it every day.

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Reading Progress

August 27, 2011 – Shelved
Started Reading
January 15, 2012 –
page 30
9.58% "1. fake epigraph, i.e. gatsby 2. overly simplistic definition of "hamartia" 3. TOTALLY going to make me cry"
January 15, 2012 –
page 212
67.73% "fuck you. i saw this coming and fuck you."
January 15, 2012 – Shelved as: bad-ass-protagonist-names
January 15, 2012 – Shelved as: bildungsroman
January 15, 2012 – Shelved as: change-of-life-fiction
January 15, 2012 – Shelved as: dysfunctional-family-drama
January 15, 2012 – Shelved as: fiftyfiftyme
January 15, 2012 – Shelved as: books-i-can-read-in-under-3-hours
January 15, 2012 – Shelved as: not-good-for-mothers-of-daughters
January 15, 2012 – Shelved as: quirky
January 15, 2012 – Shelved as: gives-great-diction
January 15, 2012 – Shelved as: reluctant-hero
January 15, 2012 – Shelved as: sex-and-drugs-and-rock-and-roll
January 15, 2012 – Shelved as: love-like-a-bad-mixtape
January 15, 2012 – Shelved as: teaching-kids-to-deal-with-grief
January 15, 2012 – Shelved as: tragedy
January 15, 2012 – Shelved as: would-read-again
January 15, 2012 – Shelved as: i-laughed-i-cried-i-cried-harder
January 15, 2012 – Shelved as: young-adult-fiction-secret-shame
January 15, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-5)

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Melanie Canales it feels redundant, and rather silly to like this review. mostly because writing about death and sadness and oblivion and the frailty of life isn't something to be liked but to be dealt with. i dunno. i think you summed up in an eloquent way things that there really aren't any words for.

Lauren Fidler there, i have deleted the mean-spirited criticism. constructive feedback welcome; miching mallecho will not be tolerated.

message 3: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Fidler Lauren wrote: "there, i have deleted the mean-spirited criticism. constructive feedback welcome; miching mallecho will not be tolerated."

i support both your effort to combat non-constructive criticism and your love of e.e. cummings. just saying.

Lauren Fidler i guess it came down to this: my stylistic preferences are just, in fact, that. stylistic preferences. i understand capitalization and fully support it in all formal writing ventures. goodreads, to me, is like facebook for books. my criticism with green's work is that it espouses a definition that calls into question whether or not he understands the complete definition of the term, not a stylistic preference to be vague. sure, it's nitpicky and maybe a wee bit bitchy on my part, but it's valid. it broke the narrative thread long enough for me to detach emotionally from the main character. that's a problem.

Kwoomac So, I think I was less frustrated by this book than you were. I missed the whole Gatsby thing. But I definitely agree about Van Houten. I wanted more from the road trip and I was foolishly excited when he showed up again (trying to avoid a spoiler). His whole role seemed to be "in case you're not depressed enough, I can make you feel worse".

I do like that Green can make me laugh out loud. The discussion Isaac had with his dr about whether it's better to be blind or deaf. Hysterical !

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