Let me start by saying that there is no doubt that The Fault In Our Stars is a very, very good book. All the cliched statements that usually accompany rave reviews apply to this novel: I literally couldn’t put if down. A page turner. Honest. Real. You’ll laugh and cry.
It’s funny without being slapstick. Sad without being maudlin. It’s a book about cancer but it’s also this achingly raw portrait of fleeting youth and the things that we see pass us by. In fact, “aching” seems to be the central emotion. You hurt just like Hazel does.
And yet I can’t help but feel that the true tragedy won’t hit most teenagers until later in life.
Eddie Murphy (of all people) once made a joke about haunted house movies that essentially revolved around their flawed premises. All haunted house movies can be solved with three simple words: LEAVE THE HOUSE. Coming of age or YA literature sort of has a similar problem in that the problems of teenagers are so ridiculously minor when looked at from an adult’s perspective. When I was 15 and read The Catcher in the Rye I thought it was speaking gospel truths about the world, about adults, about how everything is inherently bullshit. Reading it now and the whole thing seems satiric in its overblown worldview. Holden’s a whiner—a spoiled rich, white kid who is maybe in danger twice in the book (once with the lecherous teacher and once with the pimp) and ultimately pays no true consequences for his actions. (This might be debatable depending on how much you read into those opening lines of the novel in which Holden vaguely alludes to being somewhere where he can “take it easy”.)
Romeo and Juliet has some similar issues in which we’re supposed to buy into the fact that it’s this big romantic love story that is so tragic that it, mind-boggilingly, ENDS A MULTI-GENERATIONAL FEUD. That is some bullshit, right there. So let’s just say that Hazel and Gus’ relationship is not Romeo and Juliet’s. Hazel and Gus are far more likable, level-headed, three-dimensional characters than the Bard’s teens. And yet…
And yet both relationships end tragically. Except when Romeo and Juliet die it’s laughable. It’s dark comedy. It’s a Monty Python sketch.
When Gus dies, it’s heartbreaking. And to know Hazel is only a few years behind him compounds it.
And with that John Green has solved YA’s “haunted house problem.” These are not silly, superfluous teens who fall into an absurdly tragic fate because they are both totally lacking in self-awareness. Hazel and Gus have to believe they’ve found their soulmate because their lives and deaths are no longer in their hands. They have the ultimate excuse to be teenagers, to (ugh) YOLO, to make their first love their last love because it is.
Ever thus the true tragedy, Lebowski. As an adult, I want to stand in judgement of them, just like I do Holden, but instead I find myself hoping that death comes for Hazel soon. Not out of malice, but out of a hope that her love for Gus will remain pure, untarnished, and achingly true.
Anyway, it’s a great book. You should read it.