John Green’s ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ – a book review

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green

It isn’t good manners to talk about the book before book club; in fact that is the first and second rules of book club. But I am a few pages away from the end of this book, and it’s not exactly a book that sits around waiting to be discussed, so the book club will probably forgive me, especially because I actually managed to finish a book for once instead of getting bored part way through and going off to look at comics instead. My ADD has gotten much worse over the last few years. My brain is shallow; I cannot help it.

So there are a number of things that you need to know about this book, and I’ll actually number them for you, just for entertainment, although none of these items actually takes priority over any other. Numbering shit is just fun.

  1. The Fault in Our Stars is a really great book. (I never ever bury my lede.)
  2. It is a novel about a 16-year-old young woman named Hazel, who is dying of cancer, so yeah, you’re probably going to cry. You should read it anyway. Don’t worry, I’m not spoiling anything by telling you about the cancer; you learn that on the first page.
  3. The book is set in Indianapolis, so if you live here, you should especially read it, because it’s very cool to actually read a really good book that’s set in Indianapolis, with places you’ve been to popping up all over the text like delicious little surprise bonbons. I imagine this is how New Yorkers feel every time they read about their precious city: “Oh, yes, I’ve stood on that corner/eaten at that pizzeria, how droll.” Well I’ve been to that Speedway on 86th and Ditch, and I can say… it’s a gas station. But it’s OUR gas station. Wait, this is a better one: I’ve been to that Funky Bones sculpture in the 100 Acres behind the IMA, and watched kids playing on it, so I know exactly what the characters saw and felt at that particular moment, so I have better idea that any dumb New Yorker what it’s supposed to mean. I’m inappropriately chuffed that I understand one thing that New Yorkers don’t.
  4. This is not a depressing book. Well it is in parts, but it’s also intelligent, and moving, and uplifting, and cathartic and ultimately not depressing at all. More than likely you will finish this book and be glad that you read it, and also feel very alive, which you have been reminded of because several of the characters in it are not. Unless you are actually dying of cancer, in which case, I am a huge asshole and should check my privilege. Yikes. Now do I delete this list item or not? Aw, fuck it.
  5. Although you will recognize lots of the settings by name, the author inexplicably changed the name of the hospitals that appear in the book, which made me wonder throughout. You will still recognize them, though, especially if you, like I, have an unwanted familiarity with any of them. That only adds to the verisimilitude. That is both good and bad.
  6. The author, John Green, is a resident of Indianapolis, and you have probably met him at one time or another, possibly without realizing it. He’s probably that guy you/I flipped off in traffic, or cut off to get in the grocery store line. Or was introduced to, and promptly forgot his name. (For me, most likely that one.) Unlike Vonnegut or James Whitcomb Riley, or George Ade, or Meredith Nicholson, he’s actually around here somewhere. I know it’s an assumption that we may, you and I, have met him, but it’s not that big of a stretch. Indianapolis is a city, but it ain’t that big.
  7. I have not (yet) read his other works, but just based on this one, John Green is a huge literary asset to our city, on par with any of the dead literary figures I listed in the bullet point above. And he has the advantage over those dudes of being accessible to you and I – not in the sense that we could run into him on the street (although we probably have) but in the sense that he’s writing in a contemporary Indianapolis that we see every day, and not an historical city that doesn’t have the same sensibility that Indianapolis did back when true literary figures last walked the streets here. Aside from the characters residing in a city we recognize, they also reside in a time period we recognize, with pop culture and technology we recognize, and when they look in the mirror we see our faces reflected back. John Green is a voice of Indianapolis in the modern day, and his writing reminds us we are also intelligent, and moving, and uplifting, and cathartic, and that we have the power to move people with our words.
  8. I once had a conversation with my friend Rachel about whether there could be another major literary figure in Indianapolis along the lines of Riley, writing works that were set in Indianapolis in a way that could be transformative, and she disagreed with my assertion that there could – she felt that there was nothing going on in the city culturally that would lead to Indianapolis being represented in that way. When I tried to suggest that a well-written literary work could spark a cultural change like that, she got irritated with me, and snapped “It’s not a tautology!” and ended the conversation. And went I back to my desk and looked up the word tautology. I knew what it meant, I swear, I was just refreshing my memory. Anyways, Rachel – this book proves you wrong.
  9. Another thing about this John Green fellow, is that he is a huge asshole. I’m basing this not on having met the man, as I’ve already said I haven’t, or on anything specific that he’s written. I’m basing that assertion on the fact that he’s setting the curve. He’s raising the bar, and I don’t like it at all. He’s like my older brother who always got As and as soon the teachers met me, they were like “oh, yay, another Mineart” and then when I daydreamed my way through class, all my report cards said stuff like “not living up to her potential” and “she never pays attention; disappointing.” It was one thing to live in a city where all the good authors were dead ones, and their writing was mostly too boring to read (except Vonnegut, he was cool). I liked it that way. I could write whatever shit I wanted – I could write ridiculous things about sex in a way that I hoped would make people laugh and not worry about whether what I’m writing matters, because it’s only Indianapolis; it’s not like we’re striving to achieve here. Hell, our city motto is “no mean city” which is basically just a way of say “the city doesn’t suck too much.” (Can I point out this phrase, originating in the bible, is usually recognized as a reference to another city altogether? That’s the kind of thing we could expect from Indy, before John Green.) I was happy; I was writing something that I could self-publish under a pen name and push out there without worrying. Now there’s a fucking curve. So thanks, John Green, for writing a really good piece of fiction. You huge jerk.
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