Sunday, 15 June 2014

Book Review: The Fault in our Stars by John Green.

The Fault in our Stars. John Green. Pub. 2012. Audible Copy. Narrated by Kate Rudd.

Iconic cover of TFioS

When I signed up to Audible, Amazon's audio book service, I was offered a free trial with one free book. I chose The Fault in our Stars (TFioS) by John Green, mainly due to the hype surrounding the book and its upcoming movie release. It was free and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

Now, I have made the mistake before of reading a book because of the media hype... (Yes, I'm looking at you Fifty Shades), and have been immensely disappointed by the poor quality of writing and subsequent reading experience, that I wasn't expecting much from the much media-hyped TFioS.

However, I found myself listening to this audio book at every available opportunity. My 4 hour ironing stint passed in no time at all thanks to TFioS. Now, I cannot be certain whether it was the content and quality of the book that excited me, or the novelty of being able to 'read' a book whilst doing household chores. Whichever it was though, I found this book to be an easy, enjoyable read.

The Audible version of this audio book is narrated by Kate Rudd, whose voice I found to be a little irritating at times. However, that's probably just me and my dislike for listening to someone else speak for a long period of time without letting me get a word in! The dialogue of the different characters voiced by Rudd was exceptional, so much so that I knew which character was speaking without the need of being told who it was.

The book itself is set in Indianapolis and is written from the point of view of sixteen year old Hazel Grace Lancaster, who has terminal thyroid cancer, which has metastasised to her lungs, leaving her permanently dependent on oxygen. Despite this, against the odds, Hazel has responded to a drugs trial which means her tumours whilst ever present are not growing or metastasising further.

Too ill to attend school, and having very few friends, Hazel's parents insist on her attending a support group for children living with cancer. There she meets Augustus Waters, a 'hot boy' who has survived osteosarcoma and is living now, with 'NEC', no evidence of cancer and a prosthetic leg. He has only attended support group to support Issac, whom Hazel has become friends with via the group.

Hazel and Augustus swap their favourite novels and appear to bond over a love of literature, which is recognisable in their dialogue. I love the language used by the teenagers, it's wonderfully descriptive and full of metaphors. It is however, far too advanced for their years, it gives me flashbacks to that late 1990s series Dawson's Creek! (Who remembers that?) This is especially evident, juxtaposed with their typical teenage strops and love and video games.

Hazel's favourite novel, 'An Imperial Affliction' written by the reclusive Peter Van Houten, forms a base for the story. Her favourite book ends without closure. Determined to find out what happened to the characters of the book, Augustus plans to use his 'wish', granted to children with cancer (Hazel has already used hers) to take Hazel to meet her literary hero in Holland. Hazel however becomes very ill and ends up in hospital, as her 'crappy lungs' fill up with fluid. Following this episode, Hazel makes up her mind not to get romantically involved with Augustus, as she doesn't want to leave him broken hearted when she dies.

Once recovered, and after much persuasion, her parents and doctors agree that she can travel to Holland. Hazel, her mother and Augustus arrive in Holland, where inevitably, Hazel and Augustus fall in love and begin their relationship. The trip doesn't go exactly as planned because her hero Van Houten, is certainly not the literary genius they expected. Instead they find an alcoholic, bitter cynical man, who refuses to answer how his book ends. Nonetheless the trip isn't entirely wasted as the couple's true feelings are revealed as they admit their love for each other. Augustus also reveals an ironic twist in the tale that changes the whole perspective of the story.
More is revealed as the story ends, about Hazel, Augustus and Van Houten.

I've not really mentioned, that throughout the story, cancer is a major character of the novel. The struggles of daily life and the perspective of a cancer sufferer is very evident and real. Not only Hazel's struggles, but also those of her parents and the other kids at the support group. The protagonist Hazel, is philosophical and realistic, but her vulnerability is also evident. She has a wonderful sense of humour and her sarcasm about how cancer sufferers are treated by society is refreshing. Augustus is also a well developed character, but I find him a little less believable. He appears to be the most perfect gentleman, which at the age of sixteen, having been through an ordeal that would leave most young men quite angry and bitter I find a bit idealistic. He is wildly romantic and talks in vivid descriptive metaphors, which I found to be a little bit pretentious for a teenager hooked on war role playing video games.

There are other characters that I would have liked to learnt more about. Lidewij, (Van Houten's assistant), Issac and Van Houten in particular. They definitely have interior lives that would be well worth exploring further. It is touched on briefly, which I suppose is adequate, given the focus of the book is on Hazel and Augustus. All of the characters in the book have been affected by cancer, making cancer the antagonist character of the story.
There are some flat characters of the story, such as Hazel's only friend outside of support group. A shallow British girl Kaitlyn, who finds it difficult to connect with Hazel other than on a superficial level.

It is important to remember that this book is written for young adults, it is not an adult book. That said, it is no less enjoyable to read. The hype surrounding this book is no doubt follows the rising popularity in young adult fiction, whilst I found the novel compelling and touching, I've not found it to be life changing, like so many have suggested. In spite of this opinion, I can see how it could be for a teenager, its target audience. It's certainly an uplifting book, despite its subject matter. It has a positive message and it's characters are well-rounded with beautiful dialogue. It's certainly a book I will be urging my daughter to read when she is a few years older. Well worth a read.