At first glance, the bright blue cover of “The Fault in Our Stars” leads the onlooker to expect something cheerful, with its moments of distress easily resolved by the end of the novel.
The blue plane, however, is only a backdrop for the black and white clouds which remind us that not everything is rainbows and unicorns.
Hazel Grace Lancaster has cancer. She’s terminal. She walks with a tank of oxygen attached to her like a ball and chain, and her mother, suspecting depression (Hazel’s aptly defined “side effect of dying”), makes her start going to a support group for kids with cancer. This is where our story begins, in the “Literal Heart of Jesus.”
“The Fault in Our Stars” is certainly, if one chooses to look simply at the surface, a story about cancer; deeper inspection, however, reveals it is much more a story about life.
There are many novels about cancer miracles, keeping positive, and getting through it however possible.
While John Green’s novel is filled with wit and charm, it does not gloss over the fact that with cancer there comes tragedy and, for many characters (and readers) of this book, tears.
Unlike the more positive books readers could find wandering the book store, “The Fault in Our Stars” does not shy away from cancer.
Green faces it head on, using it as a platform from which to build his novel and share facts of life.
Although the cancer lens is used, the reader’s view is not warped. Instead, the subject is acknowledged and built comfortably into the story without overwhelming the reader.
Green shows us that we can talk about this subject as a reality without glossing over it, because sometimes that is what we need to do.
Categorized as Young Adult, Green’s work doesn’t cater to the constant hope that our children will never grow up.
Instead, he acknowledges in both his content and writing style that children are, to be blunt, not stupid.
He shows readers that they deal with some of the most difficult truths of life at delicate ages and often understand things that even adults do not. Similarly, Green does not talk down to his audience.
He does not hesitate to reference Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
His word choice is what would be considered “adult,” but he shows enough faith in his readers to know, or else learn, the words he chooses to use.
Green casts his novel with characters relatable to any person, cancer-ridden or not.
Our narrator, Hazel, is cynical, honest, and witty.
In her words, “There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after.”
Hazel has accepted her fate, doing so without a fuss, passing her calm realization onto newly-discovered fellow cancer patient Augustus.
The moments of comic relief come often in the form of Augustus, who Hazel makes sure to let us know is in no way unattractive.
A former basketball big-shot, Augustus has since turned his attention elsewhere – to video games, books based on video games, and doing something memorable in life.
In their first meeting, Hazel reminds Augustus of the inevitability of an end and the inevitability of oblivion.
Having worked previously as a student chaplain at a children’s hospital, Green uses his book to convey the reality with what the children and family dealt.
While his author’s note explicitly reminds the reader that “this book is a work of fiction,” that makes it no less real.
When I got the book, I holed myself up in bed for the day to read it.
With its honest portrayal of life as a teenager, life as a cancer patient, and the intersection of those two experiences, this book is one which demands to be read.
Green flaunts his nerd status by including, along with the Hierarchy of Needs, discussions of Venn diagrams and pieces of poetry.
His combination of nerdy jokes and tragic facts creates an interesting juxtaposition, providing the reader with a strange yet satisfying laugh at the number of 17-year-old virgins with cancer.
The visuals provide a rewarding break from the tragedy expected by the reader. We may not know what it is, but we know it is coming.
Certainly it has the conventions of a “good” piece of writing – show, don’t tell; relatable characters – but it also does something that many books don’t: it makes the reader think.
It makes readers consider their own situation and that maybe it’s not quite so bad today.
Sonya Cheney can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org