My review of John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars” comes in two parts, without spoilers and with spoilers. No worries, if you haven’t read it yet, there will be a clear break between the two. I don’t want to spoil anyone. I am going to assume that if you’re reading the spoiler section, you’ve already read it.
First though, last Tuesday I attended the first stop on John and Hank Green’s 2012 Tour de Nerdfighting, held at Wellesley Middle School in Wellesley Massachusetts. It was awesome. John and Hank are so entertaining. John read from TFioS and answered questions, while Hank played songs (one in a tutu, click here for a video of him playing his new song “Video Game Hero”) and did a mini puppet show with Hank Sock. (Being that I’m 35 years old, you might think that writing about seeing a sock puppet would make me feel ridiculous. It does. I simply don’t care.) It was well worth waiting until after midnight to get them to sign a very special piece of art I have.
If you have no idea what the above piece of art is, then go watch this video. If you still don’t know, here’s an explanation: In February of 2009 John and Hank were on PotterCast, the official podcast of the Leaky Cauldron. From the audio of that episode, John Noe, one of the hosts of PotterCast, created the above linked animation. The images were drawn by one of the other hosts, Frank “Frak” Franco. Later, Frak put the original art up on ebay and I bought it.
I got Melissa Anelli and Frak to sing it at LeakyCon last year. I still need to get John Noe to sign it. I don’t know if Sue Upton (the fourth and now former host) goes to cons anymore. I hope she does, I’d really love to have this signed by everyone. I am unfortunately not going to LeakyCon this year, so maybe next year.
Anyway, it was a great night, though I have determined the seats in the Wellesley Middle School auditorium weren’t made for 35-year-old fat guys. Go figure.
And now for “The Fault in our Stars.”
I don’t have a lot to say about this book without spoilers. John Green in an incredibly talented writer. He weaves such intricate stories with complex wonderful characters. This is an amazing book. If you haven’t read it, go read it now.
First thing I need to say is that I don’t feel like I can say anything of any real value about this book. I’m not a very critical reader. I still don’t understand half of what I read in “Paper Towns.” One of the reasons my favorite John Green book is “An Abundance of Katherines” is that it does not have such complex depth. That’s not a knock on it at all. I just think it’s a little easier to understand Colin’s relationship struggles than the meaning of never knowing whether Alaska killed herself or not. I still wonder if Alaska killed herself, and I am quite aware that I missed the point of that book completely. (In relation to “Looking for Alaska” I kind of feel like Hazel did about “An Imperial Affliction.” I want to know exactly what the author won’t tell me. Of course, John wouldn’t be a douche like Peter Van Houten, but he’ll still never answer the question.) What I’m kind of saying is that I like my literature (and movies, TV, comic books, and most entertainment) like Augustus Waters did. He liked storm troopers and zombies. I prefer transforming robots, starships, and heroes in tights. Difference is he got a heck of a lot more out of An Imperial Affliction that I think I got out of TFioS. As I thought about “Paper Towns”, TFioS was way over my head.
So, now that I’ve explained why my opinions are meaningless, I may as well give them to you.
“Last time, I imagined myself as the kid. This time, the skeleton.” – Augustus Waters – The Fault in our Stars by John Green
Right from the beginning, everyone had to know this book wouldn’t have a happy ending. I don’t know much about cancer. I do now. I kind of wish I didn’t, but when you make a decision to read a book, you can’t blame the author if it leaves you with knowledge you really didn’t want to have.
Hazel Grace Lancaster is such a wonderful character. You can’t help but feel for her with the pain she goes though and marvel at the strength she shows in the face of such terrible things that no one should deal with whether they are 16 or 60. Sure she has her moments of despair, but when things are toughest, she deals with them with…well…grace.
Augustus is the guy that every guy wishes was his best friend. He would happily allow his friend to destroy all his basketball trophies to help him deal with being dumped and being blind. He gave his “wish” to Hazel. He read “An Imperial Affliction,” a book completely devoid of storm troopers and zombies. He was a great guy. I was pretty sure he was going to die in the end after reading chapter two since it would be hard to kill off the narrator (though that’s exactly what happened in “An Imperial Affliction”) and if no one died in this book it would be pretty unbelievable. I tried not to get attached to Augustus or Hazel for that matter.
I failed hard.
I don’t mean to forget about Isaac, but I just don’t have much to say about him. This was Hazel and Augustus’ story.
Knowing early on that Augustus was going to die, the signs that it was coming were pretty obvious, but since I didn’t want to believe it, since I fought against believing it, it didn’t feel predictable.
Peter Van Houten is a douche. I already said that, but it needed to be repeated. Yeah, I know, he lost a child, but that doesn’t give him the right to be an a-hole to two kids dying of cancer.
The parents all have their moments, good and bad, but this wasn’t really their story.
Okay, now I’ve got a few more personal observations.
“I liked Staff Sergeant Max Mayhem, even though he didn’t have much in the way of technical personality, but mostly I liked that his adventures kept happening. There were always more bad guys to kill and more good guys to save. New wars started even before the old ones were won. I hadn’t read a real series like that since I was a kid, and it was exciting to live in an infinite fiction.” – Hazel Grace Lancaster – The Fault in our Stars by John Green
I realize that this was not one of the more important passages in the book, but it really meant something to me. I read the last four Harry Potter books in a period of about three months from June to August of 2007. Before that I had only read the first three and seen the first four movies.
Long story short, after seeing Order of the Phoenix I had to finish reading them. Then they were over. I was completely devastated, and it took me a while (and 760 thousand words of fanfiction) to figure out why.
Before Potter, the fictions I was attached to were Transformers, Star Trek, and Marvel Comics. They all have something in common. Like the world of Max Mayhem, they never end and will always come back. Transformers were gone for a few years, during a time in my life when I was trying “the growing up thing” (which is overrated) and then it came back to stay. Star Trek went through a brief period without television or movies after Enterprise ended, but there were books I could have read. My favorite comic books, The Fantastic Four just came out with issue 600.
I had a hard time handling the end of Potter. I know that Hazel is kind of going through the opposite, looking at an infinite fiction in the face of her all too finite life. Maybe facing the end of Harry Potter was a little like facing my own mortality? Or maybe I’m just over thinking it. I think I need to go watch a Michael Bay movie to get my head back on straight.
I found myself thinking a lot about my dad while reading this book. He died in 2008 after six months in the hospital following double (or maybe it was triple, that detail is fuzzy) bypass surgery. He was a diabetic and while the surgery was a success, the wound wouldn’t heal properly. He eventually died of an infection he picked up at the pit his insurance company sent him to (I’m not going to start on that).
The thing that sticks with me most from TFioS was when Hazel talked about Augustus’ last good day versus Last Good Day. I’m still not sure I’m clear on the difference, but I remember my dad’s last good day. True, he didn’t have cancer, but dying is dying, right? (For the record, not trying to compare a teenager with cancer to a 59-year-old with complications from diabetes.)
One of his favorite movies was “National Treasure”. We must have watched it on cable (or at least the last two thirds of it) fifty times during the summer of 2007 when I was on vacation. (My dad was a bilateral amputee and I live at home, so we spent a lot of time together.) If he was flipping through channels and it was on, he watched it, as did I while I worked on my laptop.
The sequel came out while he was in the hospital. My dad and I went to the movies together a lot. “National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets,” was the first movie I saw without him after he went into the hospital. I put it off for weeks after it came out.
So, one afternoon after the DVD came out, I schlepped a DVD player, extension cords and cables, as well as my laptop as a backup, up to his room. Hurt both shoulders in the process. I ended up unable to set up the VCR, so I set it up on my laptop and read comics while he watched “National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets.”
The next time I saw him was the first time I knew he was never coming home. Maybe I had been deluding myself for a long time at that point, but that’s when I knew. I remember seeing him after that a number of times, before and after the last surgery he had, the day before he died, the morning he died, and then afterwards late at night at the hospital, but I remember his last good day more.
Funny thing is, I always thought that was really bizarre to think of a last good day (or Last Good Day, I still don’t get the difference). It felt wrong to think of it like that, like the rest of the days afterwards didn’t mean as much even though he was barely responsive. They always talk about dying people fighting for each day, and I guess it felt like an insult to suggest they were somehow less important than the last good day.
I guess it’s not so wrong after all.
Lastly, as someone who does not have cancer, it’s hard to identify with Hazel, but in one thing I completely understood her. That was her desire to know what happened to the characters in “An Imperial Affliction.”
My love of infinite fiction makes it hard to accept not having anymore of this story (or any story that has a final end), especially when there is an end that leaves too much unanswered, as with “Looking for Alaska.” To be honest, there was a while when I was reading TFioS that I thought John Green would end it like “An Imperial Affliction,” and I was really pissed. At the end of TFioS, I found myself wondering what happened to Hazel. I know John Green will never tell us, so, just as Augustus said he was going to do for Hazel, I’m going to write an end to her story, likely the first (and maybe only) piece of TFioS fanfiction. So here goes.
Lewis M. Brooks, III
Hazel Grace Lancaster received robotic lungs two years after the death of Augustus Waters. She went on to finish school and become a writer of poetry, which she posted online while she worked as a college professor of English literature. She also wrote a series of online novels about a heroic one-legged freedom fighter with a half smile named Gustavo. No one really read them, but he always saved the day.
She met a guy named Jake who thought her habit of putting an unlit cigarette in her mouth was adorable, and they fell in love. He always understood that he had to share her heart with Augustus, but said that half her heart was more than most other people’s whole one.
They had three children, two girls and a boy whom they named Augustus. Hazel died at the age of 93 surrounded by her children and grand children, her last wish that Augustus’ eulogy for her be read at her funeral.
Other than her family and a few surviving friends, hardly anyone noticed she was gone, for as Augustus said, she walked lightly on this earth and left a lesser scar.
Hazel wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Yeah, I know. I missed the point. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a happy ending.
It would be at this point, that I should mention that John Green’s books always depress me, because they remind me of what a shitty writer I am.
Now, I think I’m going to go watch “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” Watching Optimus split open Megatron’s skull with an axe is just the thing to get this book out of my head. I wonder how many more movies until Megatron comes back?
Thanks for reading!