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Monday, June 9, 2014

Cancer, Amsterdam, and Egging with a Blind Man: A Review of The Fault in Our Stars

For the first time, I'm reviewing a book and a movie together! (Because I just finished the book in time for the movie.) I had heard about John Green but hadn't gotten around to reading him, so I needed to fix that. With all I've heard about The Fault in Our Stars, I figured it was a good place to start.

Fiction for Readers

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten. 

Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning-author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.

Who is it for?

If you're like most people, you can probably guess what's going to happen in the novel and how it's going to end just by glancing at the synopsis. You probably expect someone to die before the last page. You know what kind of story this is, that wicked tear-jerker kind of tale that makes you feel emotionally full and empty at the same time, that gem of realistic fiction that leaves you yearning to live better and love deeper. And yes, yes, it's another cancer story, so what's the big deal?

I'll tell you.

Book Review

So we've seen this story before, right? Right? But we've never seen this story told this way before. It's not sappy. It's not cheesey. One thing I love about this book is how John Green addresses, shreds, and pokes fun of the cliche cancers stories--all while he's actually telling a cancer story. We get to laugh about the cliche that cancer patients "fight valiantly," and "are so strong." John Green breaths such a realistic breath into this story, that it isn't like any cancer story I've read, seen, or heard about. As the main character Hazel states, in a completely different context, "You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice." John Green makes the funny choice too, here and there. But in a way, it's like that humor is what makes the sadness of this story so poignant.

We get to see that cancer isn't this glorified battle our society has built it up to be. It's awful. It disintegrates one's dignity. It mars people's identity and reputation, so that cancer patients are never remembered as anything but cancer patients, as if cancer is what defined them, illness is what defined them, not their qualities or other battles, just cancer. On the other side of society's perception of cancer, John Green also talks and jokes about "cancer perks," the good things and special privileges kids with cancer get--and that made me laugh too.

One of the first aspects I liked about this book, was that, unlike most cancer stories I've encountered, The Fault of Our Stars doesn't just deal with one person who has cancer, but several, because the main characters meet each other at a (funny) cancer support group. So it was interesting to read about how different kinds of cancers affect the body in different ways (though some of it is fictitious) and see how the characters coped with all the different kinds of symptoms, like Hazel has to deal with lung tumors, Augustus lost a leg to cancer, and Isaac goes blind from cancer.

The romance story is fun and heartbreaking. But that's kind of what anything powerful in life is. It's a combination of the amazing and the awful. John Green said that with The Fault in Our Stars he really wanted to explore what it would be like to be in love and dying. I think he succeeded. With that said, I did find that a lot of the time the characters had no inhibitions. I'm not sure I believe that teenagers, or almost anyone, could be that uninhibited--but maybe that's a side effect of dying from cancer.

Some of the themes and messages in this book are amazing. They're like the icing on the cake, so I don't want to spoil them. Though, a few of the ideas and beliefs portrayed did rub me the wrong way, but that was more because they were philosophies I didn't believe in than because they were poorly executed. So while I didn't agree with them, I respected them.

Basically, if you're looking for a book that's going to make you laugh out loud and fall in love and cry and live life deeper, without being told in a sappy or cliche way, The Fault in Our Stars is for you.

If You Read it You Should Know

The language in The Fault in Our Stars can get a bit coarse. There's often swearing and there are some references to "boobs" and "nuts," which made me uncomfortable because I don't use that kind of language. It didn't bother me enough to stop reading, and honestly, I thought the first part of the book was the coarsest. It tamed down after that. Also, being Christian myself, some of the flippant attitude toward religion made me just a tiny bit uncomfortable. And there was one part at a funeral that I found myself honestly offended; that one wasn't religion related. And there is one sex scene but it's quite clean. None of this made me stop reading the book.

You can read more reviews of the book or buy it on Amazon.

Movie Review

Honestly, I think the huge popularity of Harry Potter and Twilight finally, finally changed how book-to-film adaptations are done. Filmmakers are getting so much better at staying true to the book, instead of grabbing the title and character names and doing whatever the heck they want with them. This movie stayed true to the book. I was interested to see the acting because the actors of Hazel and Augustus played bother and sister in Divergent. But that didn't matter. They totally convinced me Hazel and Augustus were in love, and quite frankly, they really made me want to fall in love too, which, if you know me, is kind of amazing because I'm really tough on romantic relationships in books or movies, heck, even in the real world. 

Most people in our theater were crying, so the movie definitely succeeded on an emotional level. But there is always this little twinge you experience watching a movie adaptation because you see all the parts the filmmakers changed or cut. I thought the book was hilarious in so many places, but they totally cut some of the funniest lines. The movie was great, but like basically all film adaptations, it doesn't go as deep as the book. The novel went about ten times deeper than the movie--ten times--so if you haven't read it, I'm not sure how poignant the movie will be to you. It will probably still make you cry, but the emotional experience of the written story was so much sharper.

So if you're trying to decide whether or not to read the novel, or you're trying to decide between the movie and the novel, go read the book!


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