Monday, June 18, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars: My Thoughts

I promised to share my thoughts on The Fault in Our Stars many months ago, and I wrote it at that time, but never got around to finishing and posting it. I'll do that now.
I like a lot of things about TFiOS. Here are
some of the things I like:

I like that Hazel and Gus aren't defined by their respective illnesses. My father had cerebral palsy as a result of a birth injury and I've known a lot of other disabled people in my life, too, as well as a few terminally ill people. And guess what? Every one of them was/is just a regular person. Some nice, some less so, some smart, some not so much, etc, but all different and none of them defined by their physical conditions.

I hate when books and films portray sick or disabled people (especially children and teens) as being somehow more "special" than the rest of us are. And if I'm completely honest, even TFiOS falls into that trap a little bit. But it's only a small bit, and I can't imagine how one would write the main characters of a novel without making them at least a little bit special, so I can forgive that. Overall, I think John did an admirable job of writing three-dimensional, fully human characters who, oh, by the way, also happen to be terminally ill.

I love the Augustus/Gus dichotomy. I think it was a stroke of genius to use that to help differentiate the various parts of the character's personality. And while we're talking about Gus, I like the unlit cigarette device too. It's a brilliant way to have Gus assert his defiance against the realities of his situation without having him indulge in truly risky behavior. I don't think I would have liked him nearly as much if he were the type of person who would smoke just to prove to the universe that he can. Gus is smart, and he found a way to be tough without being trite. I admire that.

Contrary to what I've seen a lot of people say, I like the way Hazel's parents are written. They're written against stereotype and yet they're representative of a lot of parents of terminally ill kids. The mother who cares deeply for her child and does all she can to help her, yet also is proactive in advancing her own life, the father who loves deeply and cries easily -- these types deserve to be heard and understood just as much as the more typical parents do. I liked Gus' parents too, and his whole raucous and realistically portrayed family. I think John did an excellent job of showing us these people who shaped Hazel and Gus so significantly.

I love the novel-within-a-novel device and, although he obviously isn't a very sympathetic character, I love the way Van Houten is written. I actually wish Van Houten and his book had been explored more, but I suppose that would have been a very different story, and one that isn't particularly John's style.

Speaking of John's style, here are a couple of things I didn't like so much:

I love John Green's books. I really do. But I also love watching vlogbrothers videos and following John on Twitter and Tumblr and all sorts of other places, and unfortunately that kind of hurts my appreciation of the books in the long run. It's not John's fault -- of course he's going to talk about the things that interest him and of course the things that interest him are going to get into the books -- but in the end, for me, it all makes his writing a little... predictable. (Sorry, John!)

I'm obsessive about avoiding spoilers, so I don't mean "predictable" in that sense. I mean things like discussions of the inevitability of human oblivion; the awesomeness of the Netherlands in general and of Amsterdam in particular; the loveliness of Natalie Portman; the complexities of living with serious illness; made up band names that are nerdy plays on words; Indianapolis, its Museum of Art, and even the Funky Bones exhibit; Swedish hip-hop; mathematical concepts in general and Venn diagrams specifically; and zillions of literary references, including biblical ones. Don't get me wrong; I love following John all over the internet, and I love reading his books too. I'm just saying that it's a tough position to be in, enjoying the day-to-day interaction with an author but being frustrated by the familiarity that it creates even in his brand new book.

And another problem that maybe resulted from reading a little too closely: I wasn't even a tiny bit surprised by the "twist ending". I knew from clues in the opening pages what would happen and I would have been much more surprised if it hadn't happened. I like the twist, such as it is, and feel that it was the right decision for the characters. But I would have liked it a lot better if it hadn't been telegraphed quite so clearly throughout the book. I understand the importance of foreshadowing, of course, but I felt that it was too obvious here, and that was disappointing.

That's it, just the two complaints, and one of them isn't really even about the book itself. Pretty good, I'd say!

In closing, I do want to say something about two things related to the book but not about it specifically. First, I love, love, LOVE the audio book box set that was offered through DFTBA Records. I read the book with John reading along in my ears and, while it did slow my reading time significantly, it made for a much richer experience in the end. I can't think of many other purchases that have made me as happy as that one has.

And secondly, I can't even express how much I love and respect John for signing all those pages. Some might call it a publicity stunt and, who knows, maybe it was a little bit. But I mostly believe that it was a man who truly wanted to do something nice for us and worked his tail off to do it, and I think that's amazing and cool and wonderful. From the bottom of my heart, thank you, John.

I'll finish with my favorite quote from the book (WARNING - may be slightly spoilerific):
 "I kept saying 'always' to her today, 'always always always,' and she just kept talking over me and not saying it back. It was like I was already gone, you know? 'Always' was a promise! How can you break the promise?"
"Sometimes people don't understand the promises they're making when they make them," I said.
Isaac shot me a look. "Right, of course. But you keep the promise anyway. That's what love is. Love is keeping the promise anyway. Don't you believe in true love?"
I didn't answer. I didn't have an answer. But I thought that if true love did exist, that was a pretty good definition of it.

I agree.

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