Friday, May 9, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green


Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Books
Original Publication Date: January 10, 2012
Pages: 318


This is a story of boy meets girl. 

The boy, Augustus Waters of Indianapolis, walked with a hobbling gait, a crooked and triumphant gait. This gait perhaps was a metaphor for particular triumph over osteosarcoma a year and a half ago that will lead us to a belief fraught with existential crises. The boy loved metaphors. A passion that perhaps sets this story in motion, for the girl might have been very a well a metaphor for a ghost. The girl, Hazel Grace Lancaster, loved only two things. The first, the fact that she has stayed true to the precarious belief that once she leaves this world, she will not have caused a scar; the second, the novel An Imperial Affliction and how she unceasingly yearns for a plausible denouement to its story. She did not know she will love a third time. Augustus meets Hazel in the heart of Jesus, cradling a cancer-support group peppered with stories of lost balls, encumbered by wars pre-destined to be lost, and haunted by lists populated by those who must be remembered as commanded by the ratio, 14:1.  He knew immediately that she’s his forever.

This is a story of boy meets girl. But you should know up front, this is not a love story.*

It’s not 'just another' love story.

I have not read other fictional novels containing cancer, or ones whose characters are fighting cancer, except for those medical journals and publications I happen to randomly come across once in a while, which of course cannot be compared in its aspects. So I do not have any point of comparison whether John Green aspired and achieved differently what he sought to when he wrote The Fault in Our Stars. What I have read however is his three other books, and perhaps I have substantial grounding to compare it.

John Green's stories are formulaic. They follow an identical framework, one which John Green's fidelity in rendering his books under such distinguishable yet ubiquitous rubric is, arguably, second to none. Let me say now that The Fault in Our Stars has been shaped under the same rubric. It is, essentially, no different from his three other books, only now instead of depression, teen angst and dubious teenage know-it-all rebellion, we have cancer as the mechanism that sets this story in motion.

This was a tragedy fraught with an existential crisis. Why you ask? It's simple. I have believed that for tragedies to have those heart wrenching and tear jerkers, the characters have to slowly, or all at once, identify and connect with the reader. This is not saying that empathy is no less of a medium in such instances, but, as I have felt in Green's earlier works, it is hard to identify with his characters.

It is hard because they seemed to be unreal, and even raising the characters to a pedestal, accentuating them as heroic models seemed to have failed for me. I'm not saying they are unreal in the sense that the pain and suffering that Green wrote in his characters are unreal (that is the part that actually successfully came across to me). What seemed unreal to me is that, aside from the frivolous aspect of these teenagers randomly spouting words like existential, hamartia, and resonances in everyday conversation, for basketball free throws and fleeting shadows which just seemed a tad unrealistic, it was that they suffered from immanent character inconsistencies.

It is curious to me why a person bent on leaving the least mark and scars on this world would readily go out and commit on leaving another scar. Or that a person detesting leaving legacies would seem to act in way that is characterized by nothing but leaving one (but then again this was the actual point of the book, wasn't it?). Or even of the fact that a person who lost a leg to cancer, even if declared free from it for a year and a half, would not engage in regular check ups only to be struck down with a massive recurrence. I'm not knowledgeable on this, but it seems stupid considering the vicious stories of virility and incomparable propensity of cancer cells to relapse (the cancer in this instance was one of those instances that it was relegated as a mere plot device). Perhaps too much love of metaphors makes one forget of the real things that matter.

Reading this was unique. I somehow visualized it as having composed of two parts. The romantic YA part and the part of story tackling cancer. The foregoing discussion has pertained, not strictly but majorly to the YA parts, which I rated 2.5 Stars. The parts which 'really' talked about cancer, I gave another 2.5 stars. I made it this way because I too felt that Green managed to capture a fraction of the truth on cancer and its derivatives, on teens fighting it.

For example, this statement is no stranger to me:

“Any attempts to feign normal social interactions were just depressing because it was so glaringly obvious that everyone I spoke to for the rest of my life would feel awkward and self-conscious around me, except maybe kids like Jackie who just didn't know any better.”

In its actuality, this rating is a five out of 10 but I am not stingy enough not to give that real five-star rating as it has some considerable leg to stand on. If I were a teen and was rating this, I would have felt five would have been an understatement. This proposition stands on a two-fold premise.

Green's quotability is one. I may not have been ineffably impressed with his prose, but he sure wrote a book peppered with statements and phrases one could unceasingly quote. It occurs to me that there are many ways to romanticize this work, this is one. Perhaps this too is the reason I've been seeing an innumerable number of Facebook posts that previously I did not know originated from this book.

This for example fully delivers.

"I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once."

Or this hidden gem here.

"....it occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again."

But the real strength of this book lies in its audacity to compel, or endear people to read it, which in turn has led to an immeasurable number of audience. From the individuals whom I've considered as intellectual forces to be reckoned within Goodreads and in personal circles, to those who are much like my sister where young teen giddy love is alive, not only have they found the time to read this book, they even took time to write reviews bearing their hearts out. Considering this in a global scale, I do not doubt that a lot of people came to appreciate reading, or perhaps had their first real reading experience with this book. That is something great. John Green made that happen. This book made it happen. Of course, this should, as it is, only be the footstep of what is to be a marvelous development in reading for individuals.

The general message is actually good. Let not sickness define you.

Withal, I further learned to never again underestimate the power of peer pressure, or one's sister's coercive and threatening gesture to force you to read something.

P.S.
I hated Augustus' cigarette metaphor and strongly stand that it was pointless and dangerously equivocal of his intentions. I recognize that this is a desperate act for any semblance of control in answer to the recalcitrant cancer, but still, it failed for me.


*opening italicized lines lifted from 500 Days of Summer :)
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