I'm in the midst of reading A Prayer For Owen Meany, by John Irving, stopped at page 184 ever since my daughter told me the strong reaction my 14 year old grandson had to the movie adaptation of The Fault In Our Stars, based on the YA book by John Green. Apparently, my grandson saw the movie recently with a mix of male and female friends. They all wept. The second time he saw it, with a different set of both male and female friends, he sobbed uncontrollably. This is not typical of him, so I was interested in why he reacted so strongly. Then my daughter told me the book is on his summer reading list for his first year of high school, and she had just picked it up from the library. I asked to borrow the book, reading it in two days.

I knew the basic plot of teens meeting with mixed feelings for a Cancer Support Group, which didn't bode well, as well as teenage romance. Not my usual choice of reading, but I was curious as to why he reacted so strongly to the movie, which supposedly is quite faithful to the book. Immediately, I liked the characters; their personalities, their irreverance, their vulnerabilities and strengths. Adults play an almost peripheral part, often obviously at odds with the teens. The author has an uncanny knack for capturing the concerns, the compassion, the awkwardness of teens who are basically living with death looming over them. His ability to write so that one believes and is concerned for each teen shows incredible talent, and it made the book impossible to put down. There were a number of unexpected plot twists, woven through tender and tough events.

When finishing the book, I returned it to my grandson and gingerly mentioned I'd heard he reacted quite emotionally to the movie. His older brother asked if I liked the author's style. I said the author seemed very talented at writing from a young person's perspective, that he captured the different voices quite well, to which he replied, "You would probably like Looking For Alaska, then. I'm not reading or seeing the movie of The Fault in Our Stars. I worry too much about getting cancer." The 14 year old replied, "I hold a lot of my feelings in; I guess I just needed to let them out and I really let them out, but have no idea why."

The Fault on Our Stars
By John Green
Dutton Books, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars is a young adult novel about teenagers dying of cancer. If this sounds grim, well, sometimes it is. However, it is also often funny, interesting, intelligent, and touching.

Hazel has some serious cancer going on, although it is currently in remission. Aside from being tethered to an oxygen tank and feeling pretty crappy most of the time, she's doing okay. She still goes, against her will, to a cancer support group in the basement of her local church. It is made bearable by a quietly snarky boy, Isaac, who has a rare form of eye cancer, and who shares Hazel's low views of the whole enterprise. Better, it turns out he has a handsome friend, Augustus, who, despite being really very cute, apparently cancer free, and quite interesting, also likes Hazel quite a bit.

There's a lot going on, including dire cancerful things, lots of smart teenagers talking about books and metaphors and philosophy, mostly in highly cynical terms, and the whole problem of dealing with your family when you all know you won't be around for that much longer. But the central MacGuffin is the reclusive author of Hazel's favorite book, An Imperial Affliction -- a rather literary work of a young girl dying of cancer. Hazel has tried and failed to contact the author multiple times, but Augustus manages to track him down, and a wish from the Make a Wish Foundation The Genie Foundation allows them to travel to Amsterdam to meet him.

This is very much akin to Green's earlier novels, although perhaps more polished, and if you have read and enjoyed any of his books you will almost surely enjoy this one -- even if the whole 'dying of cancer' seems a bit off-putting. Even though cancer has clearly, irrevocably taken over the main character's lives, they are still teenagers first and foremost, and fairly intelligent and witty ones at that. I personally liked (once I got used to the idea), that Green's trademark borderline mentally unstable teens have, in this case, an immediately obvious reason for their mental issues, making them a bit easier to identify with.

If you have not yet read any of Green's novels, this is an excellent place to start. It is well-written and easy to get into, and his writing style and his characters do an amazing job of keeping the story entertaining and engaging, and not too very depressing. It is also, as it happens, a great book for any teenager you might happen to know.

ISBN-10: 0525478817
ISBN-13: 978-0525478812
Accelerated Reader: Level 5.5

Is a novel that I hated by a certain John Green.

I do not give, honestly, a rodent's rectum if I come over as insensitive because I dared to find a book about two terminally ill teenagers with cancer little more than a manipulative attempt to gain sales by pandering to Tumblr Users and relying on the "BUT IT'S ABOUT CAAAANNCEEEERR!" stratagem to proof it against criticism. If you think that abhorring this novel makes me some sort of insensitive bastard, then slap my arse and call me Hazelnut the Insensitive Bastard. However, I am entirely prepared for a mass of abuse-hurling and death threats and rape threats like what happens in other corners of the internets if you dare denounce this book for what it is.

Spoilers are not marked because I want to discourage people from reading this.

Executive Summary

They both die. Now get out your hankies.

A bit more detail, if you don't mind?

Girl with terminal cancer meets boy with terminal cancer at support group. They fall in love and give each other a mutual reason not to mope about all day watching repeats of America's Next Top Model. Then they both cark it. The end.

Okay, to be fair, there's more to it than that. There's the fact that every single aspect of the novel is designed basically to play on your emotions. In this respect it is shamelessly manipulative. In fact, reading the novel is basically a non stop cavalcade of hand tragically nailed to the forehead segments. And dialogue. Terribly written, pretentious, drivellish dialogue that nobody talks like and was just thrown in there to look intelligent and intellectual but it intensely patronising and annoying. For instance, the meme-tastic line about how "it's a metaphor," then an explanation of what that is, as if we, the thicko dimbulb readers, don't know.

You know how The Sound of Music is sometimes referred to as the only film where it's acceptable to root for the Nazis? Well. This is the only novel where it's acceptable to hope that its two cancer-stricken protagonists would just get themselves to Dignitas already. Actually no, sod that. They should have fucked each others brains out, then got themselves to Dignitas already, and spared us the annoyance. They are both wetter than a Tumblr User's clacker upon seeing Benedict Cumberbatch. They are that infuriatingly nesh. Neither Hazel Grace, our female protagonist, nor Augustus, or Gus for short, have any character beyond the fact that they're dying. They are both hot, natch, in that sort of offbeat way that's in right now. Neither of them look terminally ill insofar as they are described. He had a leg amputated a while back, but it's no biggie, it doesn't get in his way. Hazel has to tow an oxygen tank round after her, which is I suppose a disability, but in a charming, melodramatic Tiny Tim sort of way so it's easily papered over. She also lost her hair a while back but it just so happens to have grown back into an Emma Watson bob that's all fashionable these days. It's not like she's the Elephant Man or a self-hating torture victim with faecal incontinence, one leg that doesn't worth, teeth missing on opposite sides, and wracked with constant pains like Sand dan Glokta from The First Law. No, she's sort of the equivalent of the swollen-bellied big-eyed sad child with a single photogenic tear running down its cheek like in Oxfam adverts while sad piano music plays. She has no character flaws whatsoever. This is supposed to make us think, bugger me, what a waste of young and promising life but actually makes us think clearly she's intended to be Too Good for This Sinful Earth.

Actually, let's have a digression. That trope is one of the most objectionable out there, in my view. On multiple levels. The idea that someone who has an un-privilege of some variety, be it minority ethnicity, disability, homosexuality, whatever, has to die at the end. It both patronises people in that situation by putting them on a pedestal and encouraging us to think of them as innately morally superior (which they are not - Walter White from Breaking Bad had cancer and he was the biggest bastard on television). And at the same time it sends the message that they don't deserve a happy ending. Not only that, but there's a further shotgun blast of fail in using this trope, and that is that it is, simply put, LAZY WRITING.

Speaking of LAZY WRITING, why not give your characters actual personalities other than being pretentious Mary Sues, hm? Oh no, wait, that would require effort. This novel was not written using effort. This novel was written to try and pander to the obnoxious hugbox that is Tumblr (which John Green is a user of) and wring all the tears out of teenage girls and money out of their parents. This is why the protagonists speak like they're constantly trying to write Shakespeare pastiches, and go on about how everyone has a star inside them (gag), and how cute the other one looks when they fall asleep (double gag), and it just goes on and on and on and on and on. Even the title oozes pretention, being as it is a quote, in part, from Julius Caesar.

Oh yes. Let's talk about the plot. Basically, everything that happens in this novel is smoothed for the protagonists. Like how Hazel and Gus decide to go to Amsterdam on their own, aged under 20, despite both being terminally ill and requiring constant palliative treatment and suchlike regularly. And their parents are all, yep, that's just fine. It's as if the writer thought that they were both such special snowflakes that we can't let such fribbling a thing as reality get in the way of shameless emotional manipulation. The plot is a non-stop series of arse pulls and dei ex machina. And then, for no apparent reason, they have a make out session in the Anne Frank House.


What the fuck is this shit?

Who thought that this was a good idea. No. This is like pissing on Auschwitz. Actually, it IS pissing on Auschwitz. This was the moment where I threw the novel across the room. Nobody calls them out on this ridiculous conduct when they do it. I'm sorry, but this was one episode of stupidity and derp and rage too much for me. I didn't read past it. But that's okay. I know how it ends. He dies, and it is implied from her terminal state that she winds up holding up a lily soon afterwards.

This novel should be burned to ashes, and the ashes blown up John Green's anus with a rusty trumpet. It is utterly contemptible. It is pretentious. It is contrived. It is emotionally manipulative beyond belief. How thousands of teenage girls can cry at the end of it I have no idea. However, if you are a 16 year old boy reading this, then if you pretend to like it and can mumble something vaguely meaningful sounding about it then you are guaranteed vast amounts of fanny for the rest of your teenage years, and this is its only redeeming feature.


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