Early in 2011, I made the best decision as a newly single person – I began volunteering at Bo’s Place – Houston’s only free-of-charge grief support center. My three years at Bo’s Place have been filled with meeting some truly awesome kids, making new friends, and finding a new found appreciation for life. Bo’s Place has a teeny-tiny library of donated books, where I found The Fault in Our Stars, a book about cancer and death.
For the longest time, I had no idea that The Fault in Our Stars was a YA fiction book. I kept seeing it on the best books list and thought it was a regular, adult book. My interest in it waned when I found this out, and also when the movie came out. It was also mostly unavailable in the public libraries, so I didn’t seek it out too much. When I saw that Bo’s Place had a few copies in their library, I picked it up for my weekend reading.
As I review the book, I must remember that this is a book for a younger audience, and I must go easy on it. It has the typical hallmarks of lovable YA fiction – Hazel, a cute, but cancer-ridden heroine who is witty, sharp, and full of self-doubt; Augustus, a handsome, funny, recovering cancer patient with a lofty name who falls in love with her; a mysterious, quirky hero-figure they both think the world of; kind, devoted parents; circumstances that result in the two main characters becoming star-crossed lovers. Heck, the plot would work even for adults, but yet it may best be suited for younger minds that can find catharsis in the story.
While Green is an inventive and good writer, I had a hard time believing that his central characters were teenagers. Who talks in real life like they are reciting lines from a textbook? I have met enough teenagers to know that it is hard to find one teenager with a strong vocabulary – let alone three of them (Augustus’s friend Isaac included). Nothing kills realism faster than teenagers waxing eloquent on the flightiness of life. I also thought the quirkiness aspect was pushed a little too much. Almost as if, if the central characters weren’t eccentric, they wouldn’t be enough teenage-y or acceptable. Also, apparently, Random Capitalizations are the new “random quotes.”
The book may have been essentially written to be a tearjerker – but I hope that it may also provide solace to those who have lost someone they loved to cancer. If nothing else, the best thing to take away from this book is to remember that those suffering from cancer are in no way different from anyone else. They have the same dreams, the same fears, and they can throw the same temper tantrums. As a story about cancer, the book works. The love story part is there to make you weep.