Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #45: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

bigpreview_The Fault In Our Stars - John Green

Manipulative much? Without delving too far into spoilery details, The Fault in Our Stars is the sort of book you sense was written expressly to make its readers cry themselves dry. I liken it to a fictional Dear Zachary. After a while, you start to expect the worst, and somehow what you get is worse still. Except Dear Zachary didn’t feel as emotionally manipulative. People have called it just that, but I think it’s ridiculous to suggest such a thing, given the subject matter and the personal nature of the documentary. Whereas with The Fault in Our Stars, I don’t think it’s too off base a thing to say.

Cancer fucks things up on the regular, yes. It shows no regard for human emotion. Look no further than Dave Eggers’ A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which I reviewed earlier in the year. Placed alongside that, The Fault in Our Stars seems almost kind, sparing its readers that level of rawness. The important difference to keep in mind is that one is a (so-called) memoir and the other is a work of fiction. And I don’t know about you, but I see fiction as a form of escape from reality; what I don’t want is a harsh reminder of how unfair it really is. If I wanted that, I would look to the news or something else in that same vein.

Because, when an author tries to replicate real life, he or she runs the risk of it feeling faker than it would if he or she didn’t try quite so hard. Why? One reason is it draws attention to itself. Another is that truth is, as the saying goes, stranger than fiction, meaning a story could be based entirely in truth and people would still have a hard time buying into it unless you stress that it actually happened. Look at the IMDb message boards for any number of movies based on true stories; those movies are never 100% accurate, but even the details they don’t alter or embellish are called into question by dozens upon dozens of people unaware of where they were taken from.

If the story’s entirely fictional, the disbelief only grows louder. No matter how heavily researched it is, people will pick it apart until it’s no longer recognizable, and so any perceived problems will be magnified many times over. For example, I don’t doubt that The Fault in Our Stars was written based upon careful observation, but I worry Green was too careful, too faithful, the end result coming across to me as manufactured.

Even as he goes out of his way to make self-aware commentary on the cancer “genre” itself in an attempt to distance himself from it, to keep us from drawing the comparisons by drawing them for us before we have the chance, I couldn’t help but lump the book in among every other cancer-related melodrama I’ve come across. I could feel my buttons being pushed very purposefully and I didn’t like it.

That all being said, I think part of why I took issue with certain decisions of Green’s is that I liked these characters too much. It’s not that I wanted a happy ending, per se. I just didn’t want each character to be, as Hazel would put it, a “grenade.” I knew, given the genre, that damage would be done to the characters, as well as the readers, but I wish he would’ve thought like Hazel and tried to “minimize the casualties.” That’s all.


Travis Smith’s blog, containing this review, as well as others, photography, and more, can be found here.

4 thoughts on “Travis_J_Smith’s #CBR5 Review #45: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

  1. “Without delving too far into spoilery details, The Fault in Our Stars is the sort of book you sense was written expressly to make its readers cry themselves dry.”

    I totally disagree with you on this. Go read a Nicholas Sparks book, or Jodi Picoult. Those books ARE specifically designed to make you cry. Green wrote this book to work through personal feelings he’d been chewing on for decades, after a stint working in a children’s cancer ward and after having one of his young fans (whom the book is dedicated to) die of cancer. If this book’s only goal was to make you cry, it would have been very different. I think he was also trying to make us see the hope in these difficult situations, and his characters were much more 3D than Picoult’s or Sparks’ ever could be.

    • I might have gone too far in saying that. That I will admit. I just found the book to be a huge downer, is all. I could see the sliver of hope he was trying to show readers, but that didn’t stop me from wishing it wasn’t so damned depressing. Yeah, that’s what cancer is. Still, I expected it to be even more hopeful than it was, I guess.

      • Yeah, but I think going in you know pretty much from the outset that any book about cancer is going to be depressing, and if you don’t think that then you’re probably pretty naive about the world. I think if we had gotten a ‘happy’ ending, Green wouldn’t have been playing true to his subject material, and I think it would have been a much lesser book for it.

        But yeah, it’s totally brutal. This is definitely not a book for someone who wants puppies and kitties and rainbows and happily ever afters in their fiction.

    • I certainly knew going in what to expect. Again, I just found it a tad too depressing. What I hoped for was bittersweet and what I got was mostly just bitter, so to speak. However, my main problem was this (SPOILER WARNING):

      I could have done without the whole side-plot regarding van Houten’s own daughter having died of cancer and inspired his book, thus causing him to be offended by Hazel dressing like his surrogate daughter from the novel he wrote. I would have preferred if Green had kept him as nothing more than an old, embittered dickwad instead of giving him his own tragic back story, as well. Mostly, the bits with van Houten towards the end just feel tacked on. August just happened to maintain a correspondence with van Houten, in spite of his over-the-top dickishness, and he just happened to ask this dick, who’s said he won’t ever write again, to write a eulogy for Hazel, and he just happened to inadvertently write her this almost sickeningly sweet eulogy in requesting that of him, and… you get the point. My reaction upon him showing up at Augustus’ funeral was more or less this: “Who invited the dick?” And, despite Green’s best efforts to make him sympathetic, that first impression was never quite replaced with a more flattering second impression, as he came across throughout as just an unlikable person. I don’t look at him as a dick anymore, but something still doesn’t sit well with me about him. So I think it would’ve worked a whole lot better if Green had simply been more straightforward with the ending, rather than having Hazel have to jump through all these hoops, hoops that just make the book that much more depressing, to get to that final bittersweet moment with the letter.

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