By Casey Wilson
I honestly don’t quite know how to review this book.
But that’s because I’m not even sure I know how to read this book.
John Green’s new book is possibly the biggest YA release so far in 2012, with an initial print run of 150,000 copies (all signed!) and five starred reviews. The Fault in Our Stars is about Hazel, a girl living with thyroid cancer, and the boy named Augustus she meets in a support group for children with cancer. The book is by turns funny and thoughtful and heartbreaking; I certainly understand why it has received so much praise.
And in many ways, I am the book’s ideal audience. In the course of my research, I have spent years watching Green’s YouTube videos. I follow him on Twitter and Tumblr, and keep up with the Nerdfighter community that makes up his most ardent fanbase. I observe rather than participate, and am certainly out of my teens, but otherwise I am very much a part of the group to which Green’s books are being pitched.
But I think that being a part of that group actively worked against my engagement with the novel. There’s a description of basketball that directly echoes a description Green gives in one of his videos, and an analogy Hazel uses has come up in one of Green’s Tumblr entries recently. Whether intentional or accidental, moments like that were jarring to me as a reader. I felt like I was reading Green writing Hazel, not Hazel herself. (Which is always a problem of first-person narratives, but here it felt more blatant.) As such, I could never truly settle into the narrative, as much as I might have wanted to do so.
That said, for most people, I suspect that won’t be an issue. This may well be Green’s best novel; there are a few lines that I found myself lingering over. (Cutting the rest of the line to avoid unnecessary spoilers, but: “Slowly, and then all at once” was a particularly graceful one.) He also does a better job at puncturing the image of the ideal love interest than he has in the past – I genuinely appreciated Hazel’s ability to see past the grand metaphor that is Augustus Waters. This is a cancer book, yes, but it’s a cancer book that knows it’s a cancer book, which helps it be something more than it has to be.
I guess in the end, I’d say The Fault in Our Stars is a very, very good book – it just might be one that works better for those that can come to the book as a book, and not as part of a larger conversation.
Casey is a PhD student.