The Fault in Our Stars: A Review

Posted on March 22, 2012

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A funny thing happened to me on my way to trashing the third book in the three book series, Fifty Shades of Grey. Between changing poopy diapers, feeding a toddler and an eight month old and making puppets of the ten plagues with which God smote upon the Egyptians and then performing a puppet show with them, I read a book on my daughter’s kindle.  The book is The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, and it bears a couple striking similarities to the Shades of Grey trilogy.

Both are miscast.  Shades of Grey is touted as a novel.  It is, in reality, a cross between a romance novel and a trip to the local dildo emporium.  The Fault in our Stars is supposed to be young adult fiction.  It is, in reality, full on fiction and writing at its best.

Both books have readers raving.  Both books have depth, although the depth of Shades of Grey wouldn’t even get your handcrafted Ferragamo shoes messed up. The Fault in Our Stars had me thinking, I wish I could write like that.  Fifty Shades had me wishing I could write like that under an assumed name, then use the millions I would make to start a Super PAC to lobby against writing like that.

The Fault in Our Stars is presented as a book about two teenagers with cancer.  The main characters, Agustus and Hazel, are, indeed, teens.  They do, indeed, have cancer.  But reducing them to two teens with cancer is like saying The Merchant of Venice is about a businessman in financial difficulty. The circumstances of the story are a vehicle for more than the story.

Virtually every page confronts the following: What does it mean to die? What does it mean to be alive? What does it mean to love?

Be prepared to think and to ” think deeply. Just as Agustus and Hazel have no way out, neither does the reader.  We would like to believe that cancer is the enemy that turns people into heroes.  We would like to believe that miracles are the reward for courage. The book gives us no miracles and no heroes. Worse, it gives us no enemy against which to vent.

Be prepared to laugh.  Cancer, if not able to be beaten, can at least  be made the butt of jokes. Hazel’s observation about osteosarcoma, the form of cancer that has caused Augustus to lose a leg: That’s the thing about osteosarcoma.  It sometimes takes a limb to check you out. Then, if it likes you, it takes the rest.

What, then, does one do?  One pays attention.  Augustus, in his highest tribute to Hazel, says that she observes what others do not.  Great discoveries in this world are not created.  They are discoveries of things that exist, made by people who know how to observe what is already there.

As more of her body and her energy is being lost to her disease, she brings more of herself to the awareness of her surroundings. In her words, I felt I owed debt to the universe that only my attention could repay.  This, then, is our task, even in  the face of the most horrific of circumstances: To pay attention. To notice. To bear witness.  To stay in the world, even as the world expresses no preference to have us stay in it.

Read the book.  Think deeply.  You will be rewarded. But don’t worry.  Bulging members and heaving bosoms will be back in the next post, and you can give your brain cells a rest.

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