The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

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. The Fault in Our Stars attempts to explore the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.

My Review

After all of the praise I had heard and read for The Fault in Our Stars I expected to cry, laugh, and love the characters, and be wrapped up in the story. I expected smart prose and to have some greater insight about life, love, and terminal illness. I was expecting one of those books that you think about for days and ponder on the wisdom, one of those books that you never forget and that you tell everyone they just “have to read it.”

So my expectations were pretty high. Did the book meet them? The short answer – Nope. It wasn’t a horrible book. I gave it 2 stars and actually debated giving it 3, so I even kind of liked it. I settled on 2 stars because while I liked aspects of it, as a whole it left me unfulfilled. The fact that it got so much hype, undeserved hyped in my opinion, probably affected my rating too. If I had just been expecting an average purely entertaining young adult romance book rather than a life-changer it may have made it to 3 stars.

I can kind of understand where the hype comes from for this book. Having the story told from the perspective of a 17 year old with cancer provides the opportunity to give some personal and unique insight into what it is “really” like for those with cancer and for their family and friends.
It’s a kinda cute romance with characters that are kinda funny…. but also kind of annoying and inconsistent.

I did not like all of the swearing. Here are these teenage kids that are definitely more mature than their peers and who appear to be above average intelligence as well. And yet they can’t think of any more intelligent ways to express themselves than through profanities. For me it made their likability take a nose dive. Such harsh language just made them prickly, not people I wanted to open my heart and mind to. At one point the teens are faced with a self-indulgent, crass, and outright rude adult, and they are shocked and offended. I, on the other hand, thought the teenagers’ language throughout the book was just as crude, making them just as unlikable as the rude guy. It made their dialogue inconsistent too. One minute they are quoting Shakespeare and eloquently discussing the meaning of life, and then next minute they can’t think of any better way to express themselves than to use the same swear word they had used a zillion times already. Ugh.

Where the book really failed me though was in trying too hard. Reading blog posts from my friends as they have battled with disease and terminal illness themselves or with family members is WAY more inspiring, sincere, realistic, and impactful than reading the several hundred pages of metaphor and philosophical rambling for which John Green is getting paid insane amounts of money. There are a lot of ponderings and discussions from the characters about the purpose of life and their place in it. They wonder what the best way is in which to live life especially when it’s full of so much suffering for you and those around you? Is it better to live big and die big? To leave a heroic legacy? Or is the quiet life, trying to minimize the damage and pain you cause to others the better legacy? What is required to “matter” in the universe? I would say these are all pretty natural concerns for anyone and especially for those who live with the pain of disease and the knowledge that death is close. But as the title of the book indicates, this book is not really about answering these questions. It’s about showcasing “the fault in our stars,” or in other words, “life isn’t fair.”

It’s true – life isn’t fair, and a story of two kids with cancer falling in love definitely gives an effective situation in which to drive that point home. I have read several reviews of the book that praise how uplifting and inspiring it is to see the characters still choose to live and love despite the unfair fate that they know awaits. Unfortunately, I didn’t see the characters’ actions and choices in the same light.

The book is humorous and the characters are not totally bleak and depressing despite the tragedy they live with. They do have their moments of honest and understandable misery, and also their moments of bravery, selflessness, and of course love. Yet, somehow overall they came across as flat and kind of boring. I never could figure the teenagers out. They were exceptionally wise and yet exceptionally full of attitude. They pondered all kinds of deep “life” questions and yet they never could make commitment to the type of person they wanted to be or the life they wanted to lead. They were uninteresting fence-sitters and the events of the story didn’t bring out any new facets to them or develop their character in any way. The author makes it a point to neither glorify or vilify cancer patients in the book, so I guess it makes sense that the characters are unremarkable. Some reviewers call this portraying the characters as “normal,” but without character development I just call it dull.

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Age Recommendation: 16 and older.  The theme of cancer, the language, and the sexual content is definitely not for young readers.

Appropriateness: There was a very noticeable amount of profanity which deterred from the book.  Teenage characters have sex and while it is not graphic in description it happens.  Sex is discussed a few times by teenagers. The open way in which cancer and death are discussed may be disturbing to some. It also could lead to some interesting discussion in a book club setting about life, death, love, and suffering; pretty much all of the important stuff.

Book Recommendations: Obviously I didn’t love this book, but whether you agreed with me or not I do think you might like these books (or at least find them interesting): The Book Thief by Marcus Zuzak, Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt, Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson, and Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath

The Art of Racing in the Rain

So far my reviews have been mostly positive. This one changes that.

The Art of Racing in the RainThe Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Here is the summary from Goodreads: “Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast. On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through. A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty, and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life…as only a dog could tell it.”

Here is my review:

The dog perspective was kind of funny and clever and there were a few gems of deep thought, but I didn’t really connect with it for a few reasons: 1) The conflicts were so overly dramatic to be relatable to real life and 2) the characters choices on how to deal with the conflict were aggravating and annoying. 3) I know nothing about car racing nor have I ever wanted to know much about it. 4) I’m really not a dog person.
So why would I even pick up this book when a dog is the narrator and his owner is a race car driver? I was curious about what it would be like to read from the perspective of a dog. That part was unique and fun at times and had the characters and events been a little more relatable for me I could have probably really enjoyed the dog narrator despite not being a dog person, and would have been more interested in what I learned about racing. But without a connection to the characters the rest just didn’t work for me either.

My lack of character connection wasn’t just about the fact that their reactions and responses annoyed and aggravated me. I can accept that people are different than me, that I won’t always agree with them or the way they choose to handle things. In fact, I’m glad that is the case. But these characters came across as emotionally unhealthy and even self-destructive to an extreme. I’m not naive enough to think that emotionally damaged and self-destructive people and habits don’t exist in the real world. I know they do. But this books reaches “soap opera” proportions and I think we can all agree that soap operas do not chronicle real life.

Remember the movie Pearl Harbor? A lot of people bawled their eyes out over that one. But it was just a soap opera to me. One woman shared between best friends and we are all just happy about it? Not gonna happen even if one of them does die and there is war and all kinds of other hardship for me to cry about. And then there was the movie/book the Notebook. Talk about an unhealthy relationship! Could there be another couple in literary history that could intentionally hurt each other so many times? And that’s supposed to be true love. I don’t buy into it. Just as I didn’t buy into the sensationalism of this book.

There is a “happy” ending I suppose, but it’s not like the characters actually earned it, meaning they didn’t change any of their destructive thoughts or actions. The happy just happened to them all of the sudden. The story/conflict and characters didn’t logically develop until finally we reach that climax and epiphany where then true change is made and learning occurs. Instead it was drama, characters handle it badly, more drama, characters handle it badly, continuing drama, characters handle it badly, and now before my readers get sick of the drama let’s wrap everything up nice and tidy with a cherry on top. And just to make sure they won’t see past the weak development in the story let’s throw in some emotionally charged cliche. Hopefully they will think their tears stem from this “perfect” ending instead of from mourning over the time wasted reading the book.

I still gave it 2 stars since I did read/skim the whole book; it was at least interesting enough that I wanted to find out what happened and how it all resolved but I didn’t want to put in the time and thought to really figure out the point or philosophy being presented. (Had I decided to figure out the point I probably wouldn’t have agreed with it anyway.) It was like that movie that you just turn on while you are doing something else (ironing, folding laundry, crocheting etc.) just to have something mildly entertaining, but it’s not great enough for you to actually stop what you are doing and pay real attention to it.

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Age Recommendation: 21 and older. The choices the characters make and the problems they face are for a mature audience.

Appropriateness:  Some behaviors and topics that would not be appropriate for children and teens. Don’t want to spoil anything for those who want to read it, but if you want more details regarding the specific issues faced leave me a comment. I wasn’t so turned off that I stopped reading, but their was content that was not what I would call uplifting either.