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Book review: The Fault in Our Stars (★★☆☆)

favicon I was supposed to like The Fault in Our Stars. I mean, it’s by John Green. It was Time’s fiction book of the year. It won Goodreads’s award for this year’s best young adult fiction. The protagonist is memorable, the topic is cancer, and the story is poignant.

What am I missing? Apparently, a lot — I didn’t much care for the book.

Or maybe it’s just that I preferred Mr. Green’s other books — An Abundance of Katherines and Looking for Alaska, to name a couple.

This might sound insensitive, but I didn’t feel sympathy toward the main character, Hazel, who is dying from cancer. It’s clear that she doesn’t care much for the typical platitudes that accompany conversations about cancer. Hazel would rather get to the honest truth: that we live and die, that death involves oblivion, that there is no heroism in fighting cancer, that pain needs to be felt, and that there aren’t side effects to cancer — rather, there are side effects to dying.

Even when she meets Augustus at a support group and they fall in love, Hazel remains snarky. I mean, I suppose that a teenager dying from cancer deserves to be snarky, but this is typical for narrators in young adult literature. Perhaps my students would identify with Hazel’s personality, but mostly I found Hazel a bit mean, especially when she meets the author of her favorite book.

Most important, I don’t see my students reading this book. A few of my students have parents who are battling cancer; I’m not sure this book would be appropriate. And like many YA books, this one seems targeted to a White audience. That doesn’t mean, of course, that African American or Latino students couldn’t find this book valuable. It’s just that there would be many other books for them to read first.

While I applaud Mr. Green’s effort to offer a different kind of book about cancer, The Fault in Our Stars misses the mark. Of course, I could be entirely wrong, and I know that there are thousands of people who disagree with me. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments, and maybe I’ll be enlightened! favicon

2 comments

  1. Laura Hawkins

    I just finished it this morning and thoroughly enjoyed it. Especially for a YA book, I was impressed (and occasionally brought to tears) by the details and honesty of the emotions of the different characters. I appreciated the snarkiness of the teenagers (and my inner teenager wishes I was so witty and well-spoken) and I liked that both the snarky – for example, of learning to Be Blind being a full time job – as well as the deep emotional loss were represented and honored.

    Putting my teacher hat on, is this a book I would recommend to students whose parents are battling cancer? Probably not. And I definitely agree that it is targeted to a White (and privileged) audience. But I think it’s well written, that the characters are developed, and it’s certainly something I would have loved as a teenager.

  2. Mark Isero

    Laura, thank you for your review. I am partly persuaded! And you know what? My favorite character was Isaac. Augustus was OK, too, though I didn’t much care for his metaphorical cigarette thing. Maybe I just decided too early that I wasn’t going to like Hazel. Maybe I fall into that adult let’s-be-happy-and-fight! trap. See you over at Goodreads!

Please share your brilliant insights!