Wednesday, April 3, 2013

John Green's "The Fault in Our Stars"

John Green is arguably the best known writer of Young Adult fiction today. In the past, authors were merely a name on a book cover, but with the introduction of social networking, John Green has developed a loyal following of teen fans through his twitter, tumblr, and vlogging, a series of funny and often educational YouTube videos. He's written a number of popular YAL books, such as Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns, but the book that has most recently captured America's attention is The Fault in Our Stars.

TFiOS tells the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a sixteen-year-old girl who is dying of thyroid cancer. Hazel has resigned herself to a boring existence, taking classes at the local college (because she already has her GED) and participating in various internet communities. At one of the "Cancer Kids" support group meetings her mother makes her regularly attend so that she can socialize out of the house, Hazel meets Augustus Waters, an amputee due to his battle with osteosarcoma. From the beginning, Augustus is clearly interested in Hazel, but she is reluctant to return his advances in an effort to "reduce the casualties" she causes when she inevitably dies of cancer. She likes Augustus, but she doesn't want him to become attached to her when she is terminally ill. Augustus doesn't give up, however, and through her relationship with him, Hazel realizes she can and should experience life to the fullest while she's still living.

What struck me first and foremost while reading was how convincing Green managed to be as the voice of a sarcastic sixteen-year-old girl. I had read Looking for Alaska previously, in which the narration felt very honest, but that was narrated from a boy's perspective. Green was really able in TFiOS to get inside the mind of a teenage girl dealing with the repercussions of being terminally ill. Hazel was not defined by her illness: she was still smart, funny, and moody, as you would expect a girl her age might be. According to Green, this has a lot to do with the real life inspiration for Hazel, Esther Earl. Green met Earl, a fellow vlogger, at LeakyCon, a Harry Potter conference, and the two became friends. It is clear that this friendship helps him write Hazel's character convincingly: it never seems contrived or cheesy.

The only weakness I could see in teaching this to teens is that it does deal with material that can be very upsetting, especially if a student knows someone suffering from or who has died of cancer. I would most likely include it as an option on a independent project where students could choose their own books, so that if it is too sensitive a topic, they could choose another book instead. That being said, Green handles the topic of illness very honestly and empathetically, without letting the illness the characters suffer from define them as people. For this reason, I would definitely recommend that anyone (students, teachers, kids, parents, etc) read the novel.

In February 2012, Fox won the film rights to TFiOS. Green regularly discusses news for the movie via his twitter account, and actress Shailene Woodley was recently chosen to play Hazel. The movie could increase interest in the book for reluctant readers, as the movie release has already gotten plenty of hype.

The attached video shows John Green himself answering some of the questions I've addressed on his vlog. 


Henry Buckner said...

Samantha, I really enjoyed your post. It was both serious and entertaining at the same time. I felt like I was just bombarded with information but in a good way. Your convincing critique of TFiOS along with John Green's hilarious Youtube video answered a lot of questions I had. The video shows that, like you mentioned in your post, Green has tapped into that teen forum and obtained fans through social networking. He has really put himself out there and the teens are being receptive of his initiative. Overall, great job especially of capturing the book and the author behind it.

Zak Quiggle said...

I'm glad you gave such a positive review, because this is on my Goodreads to-read shelf right now.(Green helped with his video, too. That was actually pretty funny.) Definitely sounds like it will tug at the heartstrings, but I'm glad to hear that he doesn't let the illness define any one character, and it never feels contrived. We've all probably read and watched some fiction that didn't handle illness with such tact.

Besides that, it's heartening to know that Green tackled the task of writing a believable female narrator, let alone one that has terminal cancer. That must have been an extremely daunting task. Clearly a smart guy judging by his video. I look forward to reading it myself.

Mirza Ghalib said...

An amazing story, that doesn't come along often. If you haven't read this book already, you need to buy it. Right now. You absolutely CANNOT be disappointed. This book leaves you in fits of laughter and in tears. You remember the characters and think about them as if you knew them personally. Beautifully written.

Leslie Shambo said...

Samantha, I purposely didn't read your review of The Fault in Our Stars until I finished posting my own, because I didn't want my thoughts to be swayed in any one direction. It seems like we both took different approaches in summarizing the book, and I like that you focused on Hazel and Augustus' relationship, whereas I spoke about the novel that brings them together.

I hate reading books like this, where I know it's likely a character is going to die, so I looked at the ending before I read the chapter. I think that helped minimize some of the pain that comes with reading this book, but I still sobbed at parts. I think that's what John Green wants us to do anyway - as Augustus says, "That's the thing about pain. It demands to be felt."

I am curious to read Looking for Alaska now, as it sounds like you enjoyed that book as well.