The Fault in Our Stars, Introduction

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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!



  1. Leonera says:
    Oh, this’ll be good.

    As for the Author’s Note, I think that’s a reference to the Esther thing. You say you watch the Vlogbrothers, so you may know this, but on the Vlogbrothers channel, there was a girl with cancer that they were raising money for, for a long time. And then she died, and then a few months later, this book is announced. He’s probably saying Hazel isn’t Esther.

    1. actonthat says:
       Ah, that makes a lot of sense. Thanks!

    2. Farla says:
      It’s a shame they didn’t say that directly, though I guess I can see not wanting to give anyone who wasn’t aware of the background ideas. I read it as the same sort of art/reality divide thing and I’m at best very suspicious of those, but “don’t try to mine this book for information about a real person, let’s be adults and not creeps here” is a very good note to put in and makes me feel cautiously optimistic about where this is going.

  2. Rachel says:
    Sounds pretentious.

  3. random person says:
    The places where you posted the text excerpts from the book are showing up as black squares with a white triangle with a white exclamation point inside. They show up this way on three different computers. I used to be able to read them — I’m not sure what changed. I was looking to reread the analysis here but I can’t without the text. Do you have any idea what the problem is?

    (Also, when will we get chapter 9??)

    Thank you!

    1. Socordya says:
      same problem here

      1. actonthat says:
        I know! I’m so busy with my real-life job that I haven’t had the time or energy to continue… or fix the broken text The book is both boring and infuriating without being amusing (to me, anyway), and that doesn’t help either.

        1. Socordya says:
          Well, no matter.I can pretty much guess what is going on, and you stop using those after chapter 2 anyways.

    2. actonthat says:
      Sorry, I miss this! Generic apology comment:

      I know! I’m so busy with my real-life job that I haven’t had the time or energy to continue… or fix the broken text The book is both boring and infuriating without being amusing (to me, anyway), and that doesn’t help either.

      1. A Fan says:
        Hey, I really like and respect your reviews. This review though unfinished is my favorite and I really like how you gave examples of other writers who did what Green tries to in a much more effective way.

        I’m in the middle of writing a novel and I was wondering if I could send you a chapter or two so you could tell me your opinion. It would really mean a lot to me.

        Thank you.

        1. actonthat says:
          Sorry, this kept slipping my mind!

          I really appreciate that– it’s nice to know that someone, somewhere, is learning something from my raving.

          While I am extremely busy at Real Job (which is why this and Rowlingblog have fallen to the wayside, you are more than welcome to shoot me an email with your fic. I can’t make any promises about a timeframe, but I will try to get to it.

          edit: I should probably tell you my email address. actonthat(at)

          1. a Fan says:
            thank you so much! I sent you an email and hope you enjoy the story :)

  4. [Some of you may know that I work with YA fiction]

    Would you be willing to share your experiences with YA fiction? I always wondered how things like this get a pass.

    1. CrazyEd says:
      I can’t speak for Act or all YA, but this book probably got a pass solely because of its author. Like Act says in the review itself, there are a lot of times that just seem like John Green is trying to see just how much he can get away with insulting his audience. But he’s John Green, King of Young Adult, and is saving the demographic from itself. So it got published.


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