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

Sisterhood Everlasting (Sisterhood #5)

I reviewed this book on Goodreads in May 2012 and just this week had someone respond to it. I enjoyed hearing another perspective and then considering what I agreed and disagreed with. So I thought I’d share my original review, the response I received, and my thoughts that it inspired.

Sisterhood Everlasting (Sisterhood, #5)Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I really liked the first book in this series. Thought it was insightful, funny, and emotionally cathartic while being a great teen romance/drama entertaining read. The second book was good. The third had enough redeeming qualities to be ok. Didn’t like the fourth because of the “adult situations” that these teens I had connected with were in and the drama was getting old.

Now there is a fifth. The characters really are adults now, my age, but they are still acting as immature and childish as in the first book. The crisis they are faced with would certainly be a difficult one but wow the drama dragged on and on. just a little communication eventually solved everything and it was hard for me to believe that capable, intelligent, human beings would have taken so long to realize that and then act on it.

Most frustrating was that the same character flaws just keep reappearing to cause all the drama. Supposedly the characters learn so much about themselves in each book. They vow to do better. And then the next book they are making themselves suffer all over again because of the same flaw they supposedly repented of before. Now I admit that my flaws don’t disappear completely after one learning experience. They do rear their ugly heads again, but I believe I handle it better each time and the flaw disappears little by little. Don’t see that in this series. In fact, their responses get worse as it goes on because they get older, the problems are more “adult” but the characters responses stay consistent with 13 year old girls.

And I might add that I don’t write about my constant battle with my flaws and invite people to read it as entertainment. Just too immature for me which i should expect I guess from something that started as a teenage fiction series, but it is frustrating because these are characters that I cared about at one point in time. Totally ruined for me. No respect or care for them after this read. I was interested in reading about the wrap up of their adult lives. If only they could have been portrayed as decent, functioning adults, especially after all the growing I already saw them through in the other books.

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Age Recommendation: Well, I wouldn’t really recommend this book in the series to any age, but the first 3 are better and I think girls 12 and older would enjoy them.

Appropriateness: In books 4 and 5 of the series there are “adult” situations that I thought detracted from my liking the characters.

Other Book Recommendations: I obviously recommend a lot of books over this one including the first book in the series, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. It was my favorite of all of them. If you like that one I recommend Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli,  Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved both by Katherine Patterson.

Here is the response I received from Katelyn: 

While I see where you are coming from, and know that each person interprets a book differently (which is the beauty of books and our imaginations), have you thought about what drove the women to respond the way they did? I encountered some similar frustrations as I read, but then I remembered the main premise of the book, which is their sisterhood. Their intensely strong and almost unexplainable bond was really all they every knew. When one piece of this bond was suddenly taken from them, their world turned upside down. Tibby may have been the strongest piece of this sisterhood, and it wasn’t until she was gone that they realized it. I think Brashares did a wonderful job of capturing the passion that these women had for each other, and their unbreakable bond, even after one had passed. It’s a beautiful message of true friendship, and how so much of yourself can be found in the ones you love the most.

More of my thoughts:

Thanks for sharing your point of view Katelyn! I definitely can appreciate a message about true friendship. I still have a great bond with several friends from my elementary school days and there is something special about that kind of connection, knowing someone through all the growing up and finding yourself years. That was why I connected with the other books (particulary 1-3) in this series. I could relate to the adventures and dramas of those formative years, of turning to friends for comfort and help, that bond of sisterhood that comes with sharing so much time and experience together.

But in life and in friendships change is necessary. If I still went to my girlfriends at age 31 with all of my problems like I did at age 16 my relationship with my husband and my children would suffer. And while I treasure my friendships, my marriage and children must and should take precedence. It means the same kind of closeness in other friendships is just impossible, but I wouldn’t trade my family relationships for anything. It’s the way it is supposed to be.

It’s always great when my closest girl friends and I do have that rare opportunity to come together from across the country. I love that no matter how much time has passed and no matter the distance between all of us we can still find that comfort and love. We still get each other in a way that no one else can. We have a history and connection that nothing could ever change.

In addition to seeing how so much stays the same between us we also get to see how much changes. We get to celebrate our successes, hear about our different and separate experiences, relate in new ways, and get used to our unique quirks and various lifestyles. Because of our special bond we accept our differences just as easily as our similarities. We communicate and love each other better than we did all those years ago despite interacting with each other so much less, all because we have grown, changed, and matured. That’s what an unbreakable bond looks like.

I just didn’t see that the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants ever got to this level of true friendship. Their friendship actually appeared toxic; this powerful bond they all had was actually destroying their lives because they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) grow up and allow the friendship to grow as well. In addition, as individual they were lost and dysfunctional, still trying to “find” themselves and using the same ineffective methods from the teenage years, and therefore making the same mistakes.

If I had friends with their inability to take communicate or think rationally or have any healthy relationship with anyone, I wouldn’t work very hard to keep the friendship together. There’s too much good to do in the world and too little time to be caught up in all of that drama at 30 years old. That kind of angst was understandable, even entertaining and sometimes enlightening when these characters were teenagers; their behavior was age appropriate then, but in adults I just find it all tiring, especially since I had read it all before in the 3 previous books.

You said, “Their intensely strong and almost unexplainable bond was really all they ever knew.” I did see that in the book and in 30 year old characters I see that as a problem. The bond of friendship from babyhood is great and all, but if that bond is still the glue sticking your life and identity together you probably should see a professional who can help you find happiness and peace within yourself rather than it being based on other people. Our relationships can and should bring us joy, but relying on them for our self-worth and purpose in life will smother and destroy the relationship and won’t bring us the happiness we were seeking. I don’t see true friendship as “how so much of yourself can be found in the ones you love most,” but about how much of yourself you can bring to a friendship and how much of yourself you are willing to sacrifice to build up the ones you love most.