Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Stargazing with John Green

Review by Steve Thomas

"Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books which you can't tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal." – Hazel Grace Lancaster

When I was in college, a literature professor told my class that a book means whatever you think it means. If you can find evidence in the text to support your interpretation, then your interpretation is as valid as anyone else's, including the author's. Hazel Grace Lancaster, whose first person voice guides the reader through John Green's The Fault in Our Stars, would almost certainly agree, though she's more concerned about the ultimate fate of the characters in her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, than the deeper meaning lurking beneath the text. Fiction, you see, is supposed to give you endings; the circles are supposed to close. Hazel knows her own life won’t have a tidy ending because, at 16 years of age, she has terminal cancer (though an experimental treatment has given her more years than expected).

Hazel philosophizes about the emptiness of life and is clinically depressed ("Depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying."). She begrudgingly attends a support group where she meets Augustus Waters, who lost a leg to a cancer that has been in remission ever since. That they fall in love is not a spoiler but their journey into love is a fascinating reveal of what the human heart can attain ("I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once."). Like the water that periodically imperils her life by filling her lungs, Waters fills her heart and soul to give her life new meaning, but Hazel fears getting too close, knowing her life will not be long ("I'm a grenade and at some point I’m going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties, okay?").

Green wrenches the reader through emotional triumphs and devastating losses but provides a clear view of the life of a teenager with cancer. This is no sappy story meant to draw sympathy but rather empathy, understanding the profundity that can arise only from being young with a premature death sentence.  At one point, Augustus says, "That's the thing about pain… it demands to be felt" and if nothing else, that wraps the book up well: it demands the reader to feel.


Click on the cover above to request The Fault in Our Stars or click here to request any of our other John Green titles.


  1. dftba :) Is this your favorite John Green book or did you prefer some of the earlier ones?

  2. While I think TFiOS may be his best book, it's probably my least favorite of his. Each of his other books speaks to a particular part of my psyche in a way that I "get". TFiOS is brilliant writing from top to bottom, but the characters weren't as identifiable for me as Miles, Colin, and Q were(and even Will Grayson for that matter). That doesn't mean TFiOS wasn't one of the best books I've read in the last couple years, just that I adore his others.

  3. I'm still waiting to read this one, but I liked "An Abundance of Katherines" when I read it a while ago. "Looking for Alaska" is supposed to be set in a school which is based on an actual school in Birmingham, AL, so as an Alabama boy I've been meaning to read that one was well. "Will Grayson, Will Grayson" was interesting, but I found it really annoying in the end.