On John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars

by dantewilde

John Green, the author of Looking for Alaska; The Fault in our Stars; Paper Towns, has done something not many writer’s do, he’s written a book about a girl with cancer. It isn’t, as it’s been incorrectly called, a cancer book. But the story of 18 year old Hazel Lancaster and the trials that cancer brings to everyday life. The story is narrated through Hazel’s eyes and this is fundamentally important, it is her story and through first person it remains her story.

The book, The Fault In Our Stars (FiOS), is an incredibly important text, and one that doesn’t get much recognition from the adult audience as contemporary story of importance. It deserves a place alongside Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Goulding’s Lord of the Flies as an examination, not only of society, but the grit, literal blood and tears that come along with being terminal and counting the days until you die. Hazel’s mother does this, in a much less sinister form, she celebrates additional birthday for the months Hazel hasn’t died.

A large part of FiOS’ brilliance is the way John Green is removed entirely from the story. Salinger-esque, we have nothing but Hazel all the time, including the most grim, the most awkward, and the most uplifting moments. The writing isn’t contrived, it feels real, it feels raw and feels as though as though it is coming from the eyes a dying 18 year old, who struggles with the things all teenagers do.

Yes, in some respects it is a bildungsroman that you’ll wish you read when you were younger, but like Perks of being a Wallflower, the emotion will still catch you off guard. FiOS is just as important for adults to read as it is for angst-filled adolescents and those searching to deepen their empathy. Why? Because there is simply nothing else like it.

Jodi Picoult (who sang the book’s praises calling it “electric…filled with staccato bursts of humor (sic) and tragedy”) is the author of the novel My Sister’s Keeper. At its core, it is about much more than a young girl with cancer, but other than FiOS, it’s the closest we’ve come to a book with these types of themes. Even then, Picoult isn’t the most readable of writers, her audience isn’t as transferable as Green’s and her books deal with the human condition much more complexly, to add to that, she’s incredibly easy to dislike.

An 18 year old girl, however, deals with life much less abstractly, and delivers you with the ever powerful and confronting notion of death. Hazel calls herself a ‘grenade’ and says she’s eventually going to explode. “I’m a grenade and at some point I’m going to blow up and I would like to minimise the casualties.”

FiOS is more than a young adult novel, it’s a first hand look at life as a cancer patient (there is some controversy around where the idea for the novel came from. John Green met a fan called Esther who was terminal and died before FiOS was written). And this cancer patient is marvelously human and there is something grippingly beautiful and poetic about Hazel’s struggle and the intimate and awkward moments that come along with having a portable oxygen tank.

John Green deals with the realities of a brutal and horrifying disease that the late Christopher Hitchens described as waking up and feeling “as if I were actually shackled to my own corpse. The whole cave of my chest and thorax seemed to have been hollowed out and refilled with slow drying cement.” FiOS is honest, it’s heartbreaking, and as a text, it is an important beacon in the direction of young adult fiction. A beacon that should, by every means, be guiding the next wave of adult fiction, showing empathically how existence is both painful and beautiful.

This book traverses ages, the language is simple and effective, evocative, and if you’re willing to have your heart broken, and your eyes reddened with tears, this is a novel anyone can pick up and immediately begin to read. It possesses those same elements that made Catcher great and enduring. It is not, as many young adult novels are, fiction designed and written solely for teenagers but is a story that deals with the complications of life and death indiscriminately and  most importantly inclusively. We were all 18, we will all be 18 and we will meet death, whether it be with suffering or with swiftness. FiOS doesn’t forget those that are left behind.