The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is a book I have read an awful lot about in recent months. I feel as though it has been everywhere; from students reading it in class to articles I have been using in KS4 lessons (there are some good ones on The Mail Online and The Guardian about the genre of sick lit in general, sick lit being books that deal with issues such as terminal illness and suicide). However I have never had a huge urge to pick it up, but in an attempt to read a bit more teenage fiction I borrowed it from the school library this week and read it in a few evenings.
The Fault in Our Stars follows the life of Hazel, a sixteen year old suffering from terminal cancer. She has already had one ‘miracle’ and prolonged her life by X years, but is constantly aware of the devastating fate of her illness. Hazel (reluctantly) attends a cancer patient group and it is here that she meets Augustus ‘Gus’ Waters, a fellow cancer patient who, after a leg amputation, is in remission. Despite the fact Hazel is acutely aware her life is hanging in the balance, her and Gus cannot keep away from one another and so begins a touching relationship that takes them to Amsterdam and beyond.
Although this book can be described as a typical teenage romance story, as a reader you are acutely aware of the more tragic element of the plot and this of course makes the story upsetting in places. I came to this book with an idea as to how it would end and what would happen and I am pleased to say there were a few twists that I didn’t expect when I picked the book up but that I suspected the more I read. I am undecided as to how I feel about the book as a whole. Yes it was a good read and I sped through it, but I’m not sure if I am as keen as everyone else seems. For me the love story element, whilst touching, was a tad cliched in places and although I quite liked Hazel as a character I can’t say I was enthralled with her.
There has been lots of hype regarding the controversy of the cancer theme, with it clear that some reviews feel this is a groundbreaking book in terms of what it explores. However as various articles I have read discuss, talking about serious and often upsetting issues is hardly new in literature, look at Romeo and Juliet or Tess of the D’Urbervilles. And this isn’t exclusive to adult fiction, what about the treatment of Colin in The Secret Garden? Some reviewers are outraged at the idea of authors exploiting terminal illness and the emotions of the reader to sell books, but this is not a view I share. There is always going to be a current fashion in literature and authors would be stupid not to explore it, as long as they do it well, which Green does. It is great that there are books for teenagers covering more serious issues, at least these are more true to life that vampires, but then I’m not sure how I would have felt about these types of books when I was younger and my mum was ill; I think it would have brought the reality a bit too close to home and I certainly wouldn’t have been as indifferent to this book as I am as an adult.
I think my problem is that I don’t understand what all the fuss is about, really I should be grateful for any book that spreads so quickly amongst students in my classroom.