Friday, February 3, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars: Review and Thoughts


John Green's newest book The Fault in Our Stars discusses the subjects of life, death, love, and making a mark on the world. These are subjects that are of an incredible importance to teenagers. These are things we can finally begin to appreciate and see and experience, things we are finally old enough to truly start considering the gravitas of, and Green gives them all a striking immediacy in this book. TFiOS is paced very well, and Hazel's voice is expertly crafted. Green has a beautiful use of language that is intelligently written and thought provoking while still moving the plot along and remaining easy to follow. I don't want to spoil anything in the review, so I'm going to just say that you should buy this book or borrow it from a friend.

The Fault in Our Stars is a story in first person from the point of view of Hazel, a highly intelligent sixteen-year-old girl who has a terminal cancer that prevents her from breathing well. She spends much of her time at home with her caring mother and equally caring but sometimes overemotional father, but has her GED and is attending classes several times a week at a community college. Every so often, she goes to the mall with her friend Kaitlyn, and she regularly attends a support group in a church. When a boy named Augustus Waters shows up one day and seems to take an immediate interest in her, Hazel begins her journey to an infinity. But some infinities are bigger than others.

Thoughts On TFiOS

The following doesn't really spoil anything, but they're still thoughts on the novel that can only be fully appreciated after reading the novel. You may be able to guess at a plot detail or two.

I really like John Green's books.
Alright, so that's an understatement. He's my favorite author.

Anyway, I really enjoyed noticing the motifs of stars and water throughout the book. Water is a universal sign of life and death, and that certainly does come up a lot. Two things I absolutely know John Green did on purpose: choosing significant names for his characters and making sure the cover said something significant in regards to the book. John and Hank Green have done vlogbrothers videos on YouTube that have explicitly stated these things. The cover (top of the post) is blue and features clouds, calling water to mind immediately. The clouds are black and white, showing the duality of this one symbol. The text looks like it was written in chalk, which is a decidedly impermanent way to write anything, yet here it is, in the middle of nature, the universe, temporary, but certainly meaning something. There's a whole book behind this cover. There's a lot of meaning to this temporary thing. There's black chalk in the white cloud and vice versa, which makes me think about how the characters lived their lives with the shadow of death always present, and there is a shadow of life in death. This resembles the yin and yang, a symbol showing that the two cannot be separated, and will always live on the edge of each other. This too, at least for me, calls to mind the impermanence of life. Chalk is temporary, but it really can never be completely wiped clean off of the chalkboard once erased. There's a shadow of it still there, which will sit there until water washes it away.

Augustus Waters. Online sources tell me that the name "Augustus" is from Latin and means "venerated," and he certainly was, especially to Hazel. Gus wanted to be recognized throughout the world, but in the end what was important is that he was recognized by his family, friends, and Hazel. The name "Waters" has a more obvious significance. While the amber fluid, this water filling Hazels lungs, was killing her, Augustus Waters let her live. She was able to experience so much with him. Of course, she was living before, but his life gave her own life a new dimension. An infinitely new and different life of love that is so out of this world that some, like the unfortunate Kaitlyn, have not been able to reach. He was able to fill the infinity of the dark cynical skies of her mind with an infinity's worth of new stars, bright and shining experiences that will hang there forever, while always being forever distant, and always bright times of life against the dark backdrop of a looming death.

"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (1.2.135) 

Stars are everywhere in the novel, as well. Stars are for making wishes, though we are constantly reminded that "the world is not a wish-granting factory." We are underlings, living on earth, with the stars lightyears away. Peter Van Houten says that the above quote is wrong, and it is in this context. Whether the stars are responsible for granting or not granting wishes, whether God or the universe itself plans for things to turn out a certain way or He/She/It/They just roll dice and see what happens, we do not choose a lot of the things that happen to us. No one decides to get cancer. It happens. Star-crossed lovers do not decide "I think it would be a logical decision to fall in love with you, as that situation would be beneficial to us." No, they fall in love because the stars crossed. Whether they meant to or not, you're in love and it just happens. Hazel decided it would be a very bad idea to try and get involved with Augustus out of fear of hurting him, but as the book says: “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once."

Stars brought Hazel and Augustus together. Van Houten and his novel An Imperial Affliction, a star, a guiding light in Hazel's life which she shared with Augustus, brought them close. The champagne, or "stars" brought them closer in Amsterdam, and remained a bubbly symbol of their affection for one another as the novel went on. All of these things brought them so close, but only they could decide to embrace the circumstances their stars had put them into. Only love and the miracles of human consciousness and the connections between different ones can make something out of the movements of the stars. We can only truly live and experience happiness and love and the true meaning of life when we act with other living people out of those things. Yes, we'll all die and fade into obscurity at some point, and yes, that's a pretty scary thing, but life begets life begets life begets life begets life. We owe a small debt to those who used to be people and all those who have yet to be people and the universe that will know all of us in some matter of space and time even if we do not affect it to increase awesome. Life is just a beautiful thing, and simply experiencing it is a miracle. That may not be too clear, but I guess I'm just saying that Love is the whole point, and only we can give it and give life meaning.

The stars also signify something different in the novel. The stars, the universe, put us in our place. Sometimes we love them and sometimes we hate them for it. Why they seem to grant some wishes and ignore others is unknown. Whether you call it God, "the universe," or just the force of Chance, a capital S Something is at work in the background of the novel. The Literal Heart of Jesus is an important place in the novel, and those characters in the book that represent organized religion, mainly Christianity, (Patrick from support group, the idea of the group itself, and the minister) all serve as a force of good, but sometimes they get wrapped up in a bit of, as Hazel would describe, and pardon my language, "bullshit." This is a pretty realistic view of religion for teens and a lot of people today. They are humans trying to do something to spread love and respect, but they're still humans, and that's not their fault. The Genies are trying to spread happiness as well. It's just the way their stars moved. I like this, too. I really like the way all of this is brought up in the novel. You can call it God or Chance or Stars, but whatever you do call that Something is a personal spiritual journey, and in the scope of humanity, it's up to human beings to love other human beings when that Something is ignoring them or puts them in a bad situation. Or maybe the human being giving the other human being love in some form is in fact that Something. It's ambiguous and is really left up to the readers to decide for themselves, the way it is in real life. And whichever you choose, it's still important and meaningful as long as you're being a good person.

I wrote all of this just after finishing the novel, and these are my fresh and immediate thoughts about it. John Green is a master of understanding humanity and a master of conveying great messages about the human experience. Please comment if you find yourself interested in doing so. Thanks for reading this wall of text!