(Sort-of spoilers ahead, specifically in #3, 5 and 7. If you haven’t read the book yet, you should be able to read the other numbers or at least the bolded sections. Maybe writing this in depth list isn’t so helpful to people looking for a good book to read if it spoils parts of the novel…oh well.)
Yesterday I finished The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, which has got to be one of the greatest modern novels composed, for the following reasons (in a somewhat but not really particular order).
1) Allusions and Symbolism. Lots and lots of allusions. Being a former AP English Lit student, I was able to identify them many of them as the meaning each work brought to the novel. Allusions include “The Red Wheelbarrow”, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, and of course, Shakespeare. The title of the novel comes from a line in Julius Caesar, in which Caesar says, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/ But in ourselves” (Shakespeare 1.2.140-141). Furthermore, there is a smorgasbord of symbols, particularly representations through the characters. There is a ton of water (rebirth, cleansing) symbolism (for example, Augustus’s last name is Waters and they (Hazel and Gus) travel to Amsterdam, a city famous for its canals).
2) Writing Style. I’m usually a fan of the classical, lots-of-fancy-language-and-run-on-sentences style of writing, but the ideas surrounding the novel are so strong John Green does not need to be “fancy”. Moreover, it just makes more sense the writing style is more relaxed, considering a teenager is the narrator. It includes some script-like conversation between characters (Example: Me: Hi Mom. Mom: Hi there), which I really enjoyed for some inexplicable reason.
3) Themes. There are a multitude of important concepts covered in the novel, the most important being the struggle for immorality and two ultimate life questions: Will I be loved? Will I be remembered?
The novel emphasizes the way even a novel cannot immortalize an individual. For example, John Green states, “Nothing (at least that can be done by humans) immortalizes anyone. The Fault in Our Stars will hopefully have a long and wonderful life, but it will eventually go out of print, and eventually the last person ever to read it will die, and then the characters will no longer live in any consciousness” (The Fault in Our Stars Q and A 5-6).
So that might seem depressing, especially to someone like myself who adores the possibility of immortality promised in writing. However, Green goes on to explain, “Also, that is okay…What Gus in particular must reconcile himself to is that being temporary does not mean being unimportant or meaningless” (TFIOS Q and A 6). Even though one is mortal, the here-and-now of life is just as important as it would be if our lives were remembered forever. Essentially, the novel suggests the meaning of life is to continue to lead significant lives notwithstanding our own mortality.
The novel also describes the struggle of those like Hazel who attempt to refrain from becoming a “grenade”, harming their loved ones with their departure (specifically death). John Green demonstrates through Hazel and Gus’s relationship hurting one’s loved ones, simply by being loved, is okay. As Gus writes, “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, old man, but you do have some say in who hurts you” (TFIOS 313).
4) Characters who also love literature, metaphors, and using big words. These are people I can relate to! Not only do these characters make reading more personable (to me at least), it allows John Green to include important literary allusions flawlessly (see #1) in the novel.
5) “Okay”. Isaac and his girlfriend say “Always” to each other as a sugary, romantic way of saying “I will love you forever”. “Okay” becomes Hazel and Gus’s “Always”, which is not a promise of a forever but of real, substantial love. Sort of the kind of thing I find attractive in a relationship (not overly romantic).
6) Realism. Many of the other components of this list could fit into this category, such as writing style and theme, but I wanted to point out just how real this book feels. Its characters and the interactions between them seem pretty legitimate to me. The novel addresses realistic ideals, including the impossibility of human immortality.
7) The novel does not portray cancer patients as overly cheerful, strong, wonderful people, or the dead as virtuous and venerable. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Mommom, who passed away this year. But she had many, many flaws. Cancer patients, stereotypically depicted as heroic survives, can be these astounding, angelic individuals. But they are still real people, who experience anger, misjudgments, and, well, all of the normal human emotions. All of the cancer patients in this novel-Hazel, Gus, Isaac and Caroline Mathers-are complex characters with good and bad qualities. Additionally, when Isaac and Hazel write their eulogies for Gus’s funeral, though they opt for a more sentimental speech at his actual funeral, they poke fun at his life and his shortcomings. Green does not “sentimentalize or romanticize anything in the book” and combats the oversimplification that “suffering is heroic, and that cancer suffering in particular strengthens you and makes you better” (TFIOS Q and A, pg 23).
8) I read this novel at a perfect time in my life. The past year, more specifically the last month, of my life has been encompassed by the question of the meaning of life. More importantly, what is it that I want from my own life? While I was reading the novel, especially in the beginning, I was shocked by the reality of my own mortality, and, in short, would not accept it. As I began to realize I was “temporary”, I spiraled into more depression. I would channel my inner Augustus Waters and ask myself, what is the point if no one will remember us? After finishing the novel, I have been satisfied with a somewhat answer. Indeed, there is a point in living fully even though we are only mortal. I have yet to discern the specifics of the meaning of my own life, but will and must continue to hope living is truly worthwhile.
I am so excited to see the movie when it is released in theaters, and am very pleased to have enjoyed the “small infinity” contained in this novel.