Okay, first of all, Reviewing Rowling. I know. I haven’t abandoned it, it just makes me angry and it takes a lot of willpower and flinging the book across the room for me to get a chapter done. So it takes a while. There’s an update incoming. (Maybe I’ll even do that Compilation of Harry post I was talking about.) (Not making any promises.)
But, meanwhile, this book. Some of you may know that I work with YA fiction. I see a lot of terrible, awful things come through our offices. Most of it makes me want to kill myself. None of it is appealing. Even the stuff that isn’t “Sapphire Specialgirl meets a vampire/ghost/werewolf/fairy and is the savior of the world and also she loves him!” is pretty bad. Often there’s no plot, the writing sucks, and the premise is cliche or just outright stupid.
In a sea of stupid with a startling lack of self-awareness, people started talking about this book. John Green is half of the Vlog Brothers, who are funny about stuff and who I knew from the Internet before I knew they were real life people. On top of that, this book has gotten raves that have actual substance– people aren’t just vaguely praising it for its existence, they seem to have real comments about its virtues. It’s supposed to be witty and touching without losing believability or becoming overwrought. This is in stark contrast with everything else ever.
This is the description:
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.
Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.
Something about that seemed more self-aware to me than usual. So, I bought the book. I figured, what better way to judge something everyone seems to love than via a Let’s Read on a blog that hates everything? I imagine I’ll move through it pretty fast. Flipping through, the dialogue-to-narration ratio is much better than most YA, but it’s still pretty high. It’s in the first person, because apparently that’s some kind of at-gunpoint requirement of YA.<
The book opens with an Obligatory Deep Quote:
As the tide washed in, the Dutch Tulip Man faced the ocean: “Conjoiner rejoinder poisoner concealer revelator. Look at it, rising up and rising down, taking everything with it.”“What’s that?” I asked.“Water,” the Dutchman said. “Well, and time.” —PETER VAN HOUTEN, An Imperial Affliction
I know nothing about the quote or its source. Research tells me that this is because he is a made up person. This strikes me as a really bizarre and kind of self-congratulatory thing to do– especially since it’s before the author’s note, title page, and actual start of the book.
The next page is an author’s note:
This is not so much an author’s note as an author’s reminder of what was printed in small type a few pages ago: This book is a work of fiction. I made it up.Neither novels nor their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species. I appreciate your cooperation in this matter.
I thought this was cute and candid enough. It endeared me a little bit. I tend to be a biographically driven reader– I want to know what the author was really trying to say, and what was going on in his life that led him to write this way, and so on. Similarly, I generally believe things aren’t open to interpretation: Animal Farm is about communism, and that’s that. But if the author says, “Look, this is an artistic endeavor, it’s just a book, take it as face value and don’t look into my life for reasons behind it,” I’m willing to take a look at it that way, too, as long as it’s not written by Oscar Wilde. I’m not really sure what this implies for the story– he may simply be saying, “It’s art,” or it could be, “I never went through something like this, so don’t ask,” or, “There’s some pretty fucked up shit in here and I have never actually done/experienced any of this stuff.” It could, of course, also be a Wither Author-style shirking of responsibility: “Look, guys it’s a book and so it can’t say anything about me personally, so stop going on about how it shows I’m immoral and child rape is bad.” It’s for that last reason that I bring it up and want to keep it in mind.
So, The Fault in Our Stars. Nothing sets you up for being torn down like cliche titular references to Shakespeare!