Remember watching Dawson’s Creek back in the day and thinking, what 16 year old honestly talks like that? Armed with prodigious vocabularies (I am allowed to use the word prodigious as I am 26 and not 16), they philosophized about the metaphysical, the meaning of life, and so forth as casually as if they were discussing what they had for breakfast. Those were definitely not the type of people I went to high school with, and from what I can tell from the Facebook statuses of current high schoolers (spackled with lolz, omfg, and I “heart” this and that), they are typically not known for being profound conversationalists. Which is one of the only problems I have with The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – that is, the two 16 year old main characters speak as though they are a couple of wizened, enlightened ancients going through an existential crisis.
Need an example to clarify things for you? Shortly after our star crossed lovers meet, Augustus shows Hazel his room filled with basketball trophies, and naturally begins to discuss the hours he used to spend shooting free throws; “All at once, I couldn’t figure out why I was methodically tossing a spherical object through a toroidal one.” Then later as Hazel mentally gushes over Augustus, she thinks, “I liked that he took existentially fraught free throws… And I liked that he had two names. I’ve always liked people with two names… Me, I was always just Hazel, univalent Hazel.” Really? Three problems: (1) What the heck is a toroidal object? I don’t recall covering that one in high school geometry. In fact, spell check doesn’t even recognize it as a word, that’s how obscure it is! And (2) who wants to mix existentialism in with their sports? That seems like an awful idea if I ever heard one. And finally, (3) univalent?! REALLY? Also, Hazel and Augustus use the words “metaphorically resonant” no less than five times throughout the book. I counted.
I know that cancer makes you grow up fast. Maturity beyond one’s years, that’s one thing; but a cancer diagnosis should not magically inject a teenager with the tongue of a great philosopher. I guess now would be a good time to discuss what the story was actually about. Augustus and Hazel both have different forms of cancer, and met at a cancer support group. Hazel’s cancer, as she states from the very beginning of the book, is terminal, and it is just a matter of time before she dies. Understandably, she is not really all that eager to make friends that she knows she will eventually be leaving behind. Despite her reservations, though, Hazel and Augustus become friends, then more than friends. And of course, as with any cancer book, just when everything seems to be coming up roses things suddenly go south.
Although it probably doesn’t sound like it so far, I actually really did enjoy this book for the most part (although I do have to take it down a few notches for not making me cry, as a book about cancer should). And this is coming from a person who cries pretty easily while reading. The lack of tears is probably an artifact of my finding it quire difficult to connect with the characters completely. Yet, there were moments that completely captured me. One such moment was a passage from Hazel about love and dying:
“I can’t talk about our love story, so I will talk about math. I am not a mathematician, but I know this: There are infinite numbers between 0 and 1. There’s .1 and .12 and .112 and an infinite collection of others. Of course, there is a bigger infinite set of numbers between 0 and 2, or between 0 and a million. Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get… But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within numbered days, and I’m grateful.
To me, that passage was perfect in every way, and it is the moments like those that I will remember most when thinking about this book. Thank you, thank you Mr. Green, for leaving behind the Dawson-speak long enough to get that passage out!
Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5