“To die by your side, well, the pleasure, the privilege is mine.”
– The Smiths: There is a Light that never goes out
I’m beginning this book review with a quote from the Smiths because to me, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green feels a bit like this song. Maybe one could even say that the book is the literary equivalent of a Smiths song, with its underlying dark theme (cancer/terminal illness), its teenage angstiness, its moodiness, its undramatic drama – and its small flicker of hope despite the odds that don’t seem to be in favour of the protagonists.
The novel tells the story of 16-year-old Hazel Grace who meets Augustus, “Gus”, at a meeting of their Cancer Support Group. Both are drawn to each other, and slowly but surely fall in love.
However, this is more than the story of their hesitantly developing relationship, it is also a story about life itself, and about living it as fully and bravely as humanly possible despite any circumstances. It is about embracing life and love and friendship, in whatever form they might appear.
This was my first book by John Green and I liked it a lot, so I totally understand all the fuss there is about this book.
However, I didn’t like the representation of girls and women in it. First of all, Hazel is too passive for my taste. Gus is the driving force in their friendship and relationship – not in an aggressive way, since he is all kind and sweet; but still, he is the one with the ideas and determination, while Hazel always only seems to re-act. And didn’t find anyone else it totally creepy that Gus decided to pursue Hazel mainly because she looked almost exactly like his dead ex-girlfriend Catherine?
Then we have Hazel’s mother, a hovering and omnipresent example of maternal martyrdom. It is only at the end that we finally find out that she actually has had a life of her own throughout the whole story. The other female minor character in this book is Kaitlyn, Hazel’s non-cancer “friend” from when she used to attend highschool. Their friendship is really superficial, and so is Kaitlyn: she is shallow and all she ever seems to want to talk about is boys and shopping. I’m aware that Kaitlyn is supposed to show what non-cancer teenager life is and to contrast with Hazel, but this is just too clichéd for my liking – all teenage girls are only interested in clothes and gossip and boys and not capable of sympathising with Hazel or understanding the more serious, meaningful aspects of life (and death, for that matter)? I don’t think so.
Though it has its shortcomings, The Fault in Our Stars is still a good read which gives you something(s) to think about; it is beautifully written and never boring. At times it is funny, and at others sad and more serious. Despite their flaws, the characters are quite likeable. I’m sure that I would have loved this book to no end had I still been part of the main target audience, the teens. But I can’t be so over-enthusiastic anymore, because nowadays I prefer strong female characters and not so stereotypical representations of girls/women.
Two+ women with names: Yes!
Talking to each other?: Yes!
About something other than men?: Yes!
John Green: The Fault in Our Stars
Penguin Books, 2013
Paperback; 316 pages
Originally published in 2012