TFioS is an objectively bad book, okay? (Book Review)

The Fault in Our Stars and John Green in general are both lauded for their pro-feminist and all-around progressive viewpoints. What with the movie coming out in a few weeks, I thought I would review the book (and, subsequently the movie, if I ever get around to seeing it which I won’t promise because I’m so lazy). Also, the movie is starring the fabulous Shailene Woodley whom I adore as an actress, so I hope I’ll remember to go see it at some point. This review is going to be critical with a healthy dose of bitchy on the side, so if any nerdfighters’ feelings get hurt in the process then…actually, I’m not going to apologize because you’ve been warned.

I’ve never done a book review before, so I’ll just dive right in. (warning–this book has been out for a billion years now so this review may be spoiler-heavy for those of you who’ve been living under a rock)

The Characters

Hazel
Oh, I had so much hope for her.

She started off witty and strong and sarcastic and was beautifully in denial about how much of an emotional toll her cancer was taking on her. She answered to no one and mostly just wanted to be left alone, so as to minimize the emotional impact her death had on others. Maybe she wasn’t a paragon of feminist virtue but she was, in her own right, a character.

That is, until she met Augustus.

When Hazel meets Gus for the first time, she starts obsessing over her appearance. Not as in like “Oh lord I have cancer and that combined with the medication makes me look like a freak.” More like “Silly me, there’s an attractive male in the room and I didn’t get dolled up for him.” She instantly turns herself outward until there is none of her left. It becomes all about Augustus and Augustus’s pain and what she can do to make Augustus happy. Her parents, her barely-mentioned single friend, and even many of the more nuanced aspects of her own fatal disease take a backseat to Gussy’s needs.

Her own opinions are conspicuously absent from much of the story, especially the latter parts when Gussy is dying. Everything about her is defined in relation to Gus. Everything is based on Gus’s opinions. This shines through particularly since the book is in first person. She never really voices much of an opinion and she seems…to be honest, kind of emotionless. There’s loads of examples of this throughout the book but the most obvious is during their “sex” scene. It lasts for, like, a couple of paragraphs and can basically be summed up with “Well, it didn’t really hurt but it wasn’t really pleasurable and it wasn’t really exciting but it wasn’t terrible either.” Or, even more accurately, “It was meh.” Because god forbid Hazel be deemed a slut, but again god forbid she perform her God-given role as a cum receptacle poorly. She’s not allowed to express any strong opinions on it because that would mean some actual agency.

Yet this book is hailed as a groundbreaking work of progressive YA fiction. WHY?! I really don’t understand. Because, in all honesty, Hazel is neither a “strong female character” nor much of a person in her own right otherwise. She’s mostly just really really bitchy to everyone around her for no reason at all. She judges other people based on their appearances and objectively despises (or at least shames) all women prettier/more sexually active than her. Since it’s in first person, maybe we’re meant to assume. . . no, there’s really no excuse for this, to be honest. The narration has no self awareness at all. No one ever calls her out on it. There’s no mention that she’s a cranky asshole because she’s dying and therefore depressed. Nope. Instead she’s always completely justified and usually backed up by Gussy. Green really just sucks at writing that hard.

Augustus
Let me just say that my first time around reading TFioS, I adored Augustus. I found him witty and real and I thought his banter was fantastic. After going to read it a second time through a more critical lens, I realized–wow, he’s an asshole cardboard cutout, not to mention a technical rapist (albeit a witty one, I will give Green that).

I had this one (now ex-) friend Vee who read the book and reportedly shed not a single tear over Augustus’s death. The world at large responded with “OMGWHATBUTHESJUSTSOPERFECTANDITSJUSTSOTRAGICANDCANCERANDBWAAAAAH” to which she very coolly answered “I just found him really, really creepy. It seemed like everything he did was to get in Hazel’s pants.”

So I went back and read the book again. And holy shit, was she right. In convincing Hazel he was healthy and then sleeping with her, Augustus Waters committed rape by fraud and Hazel did not give a shit at all. Because oh he’s dying and he just did it because he loved her and he’s just in so much pain and ooohhhh cancer. John Green is telling young people everywhere that if you’re witty and attractive, it’s okay to manipulate the person you “love” into having sex with you. How’s that for being progressive? Suck it, haters, John Green is soooo obviously a feminist.

Caroline Mathers

Very effectively fridged, and the source of all Gussy’s angst. Yeah, she had a massive brain tumor and literally could not control her own behavior, which made her say some pretty mean things, but the feelings of the man in her life matter far more than the fact that she’s dying. There’s not much more to be said for her. Also with bonus added creepiness, since the only reason Gus noticed Hazel in the first place is that she looked like his dead girlfriend.

Isaac and Monica

So, Isaac lost his eye to cancer before the events of the story, and when the book opens he’s just days away from surgery to get the other one removed, thereby making him blind forever. His girlfriend, Monica, promises she’ll stay with him always. Making out ensues. It’s adorable and sweet and heartfelt.

But then she leaves him. And both the characters and the narration destroy her for it.

There’s no mention of the fact that she is a person who deserves her own agency and the right to make her own choices. There’s no mention of the fact that a teenage girl can hardly be expected to take care of a boy who is now legally blind. There’s no mention of the fact that, hell, maybe she’s just not emotionally ready to handle a relationship with a person who will be permanently disabled for the rest of her life.

I’m not saying it was a necessarily good thing for Monica to break up with Isaac just because he became blind. Yes, it’s not a kind and certainly not a selfless thing for a person to do (that is, if Monica can even be counted as a person in her own right at all–she mostly just exists to serve as a foil to Hazel’s everlasting goodness and to be shamed by the male characters). But for the love of Christ, it doesn’t make her some sort of un-caring selfish whore, either! Isaac (and the other characters for that matter) speaks as though he expected Monica to stay with him, always, despite the fact that he was basically going to have to relearn how to interpret the world. She obviously didn’t think she was mature or emotionally ready enough to handle a relationship with a disabled teenage boy. And who said every woman should be a selfless Mama fuckin Theresa anyways?

And then Green has the fuckin gall to write in the narration that Monica is an even bigger bitch just because she didn’t check up on Isaac to make sure he was doing okay after the surgery. She DUMPED him and to teenagers that usually means severing all ties. Then they egg her fucking house yet no one calls the police on them. What kind of world does John Green in that he thinks he can write this bullshit?!

All this ranting and they take up maybe like twenty percent of the story, if even. I don’t think Monica even gets a speaking part. But it still pisses me the hell off.

Basically–fuck you, John Green.

Everyone else including their damn parents

Nope. Nothing. Everyone else is just a cardboard cutout and not even particularly good ones at that. I liked van Houten a lot, but I’m too tired to go on another few-hundred-word rant about how Hazel and Gus treated him as barely human because he didn’t pity them. Except, wait, they went the whole book saying they didn’t want to be pitied. Not to mention the fact that they’re assholes to their parents, compare cancer to the Holocaust, and make out in the goddamn Anne Frank house and then get APPLAUDED for it. Everything about this book is pretentious as hell and I can’t deal.

The Writing

Ah. Well. See…no.

The last several chapters (the ones where Gussy is dying that had me bawling the first time around, mind you) are written in laundry-list format just describing everyone’s basic actions in the most minimalistic way possible. Again, any semblance of Hazel as a person is entirely absent from the majority of the book.

Some of it’s written in script format, because I guess John Green stopped giving a fuck. There’s also random malapropisms littering the entire book that are obviously unintentional. Not to mention the banter and narration in general are pretentious as hell. Green has this tendency to (sometimes subtly but usually overtly) pat himself on the back for his oh-so-brilliant ideas over the course of the narration. For example, Hazel worships the book An Imperial Affliction and talks about how deep and amazing it is–except, wait, that book is by no means real and Green invented it himself.

There is also and incredible and noticeable lack of transitions between scenes. The narration skips days or maybe even weeks (it’s rarely specified so maybe it could be hundreds of years–we’ll never know) according to whatever suits Green’s needs. It’s like he wanted to see how long he could get away with this bullshit before the editor dropped him. Except, fuck, the editor never dropped him. Instead we sit here with a published book.

John Green is king of the internet, and he knows it. And it lets him get away with whatever he wants.

But it’s only fiction, so it doesn’t matter!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this about TFioS alone, not to mention the ten billion other times about other works of fiction. Yes, it is only a book. But it’s a book with consequences.

John Green is worshipped as being the (possibly self-proclaimed) “father of YA”. There’s this concept that people throw around known as GreenLit, which from what I can gather is basically an entire YA subgenre featuring quirky independent female characters with an equally quirky love interest, as well as some extraordinary and (you guessed it) quirky circumstances. For whatever reason, if a book receives a glowing review from John Green then that book has a much higher chance of becoming a bestseller. Despite the fact that his writing is mediocre at best, many of his diehard fans say they consider him “prolific,” and he has gained a much larger following than many female YA authors who are more skilled, more socially conscious, and more accomplished.

This article on Das Sporking says it far better than I ever could.

John Green, as leader of the “nerdfighters” (who, by the way, are all pretentious and annoying as hell) has a massive following. Millions of teenage girls (and boys, for that matter) will read this bullshit and internalize all of it as okay. Hazel slut-shames, and has no agency, and focuses entirely on Gus when she isn’t angsting and moaning. She isn’t emotionally present for much of the story. Gus is a manipulative asshole who commits rape by fraud but it’s presented as one hundred percent okay because, hey, he’s hot and he loves her. There are teenagers everywhere viewing these thoughts and actions as completely healthy and normal.

People are hailing this crap as a work of literature! Aspiring young writers everywhere are trying to create their stories “in the style of John Green.” And if you think I am making this up–I have read them. My friends bring their writing to me for tips (or used to, at least, before they realized I’m a bitch) and I have wasted hours of my life that I will never, ever get back reading attempts to emulate John Green. So don’t tell me I’m overreacting until you’ve walked in my shoes.

Nothing, nothing, is ever “only fiction.” The Fault in our Stars is no exception.

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8 comments

  1. Excuse you? Um no. Calm down, geez! It’s a good book. You’re jus being overly sensitive and critic-y

  2. Have you read the Das Sporking? Act is currently reviewing it chapter-by-chapter on Dragon Quill, and I think both of these would give you hope for the human race……

  3. I think you have an interesting point of view, but disagree on so many levels. Not going to get into the specifics because it would be pages long, but I would recommend looking at John Green in less of a black-and-white lens. This is his first novel from a female perspective, and while that may not excuse him from any sort of sexism, I hardly think he is intentionally screwing over his readers to get in some sort of secret misogynistic agenda. Also, in regards to the characters, what is a character without flaws? These are teenagers, after all, and if you are damning a character for being concerned over her looks (who hasn’t been self-critical in front of someone cute before?) and for being preoccupied by falling in love for the first time (I think we all have read enough poetry to know how consuming love can be), then I think the insecurities/struggles young women face in their teens are being invalidated as a whole. Just some thoughts to consider, take from it what you will!
    Looking forward to reading more from you!

    1. Thank you for such a nice comment. It means a lot for someone to be so polite ❤

      I totally get where you're coming from. My review was definitely a bit. . . intense.

      My issue with the characters' flaws is this: the narrative (from what I can interpret, at least) seems to have no awareness of these flaws. I'm not talking about the viewpoint character—I'm talking about the narrative itself. To me, Hazel's critical examination comes across as angsty and, ultimately, damaging. And honestly, I find Gus to be an asshole, and to me it seems like Green finds no real flaws in his own characters whatsoever. So, maybe my issue is not so much that the characters are flawed, but that there is no narrative awareness of these flaws.

      And honestly, for me, with Hazel, the issue mostly isn't her flaws, it's her lack thereof. She isn't even a Mary Sue—she's kind of just this blank canvas of nothing at all. This isn't true for the entirety of the story—there's parts that, to me, give a really strong sense of a sad sort of "what could have been" if only Green had stuck with Hazel's characterization—but for the most part she's just really…boring. And inactive. And it bothers me a lot.

      Thank you so much for your comment. I will definitely consider everything you've said. Sometimes it's important for cooler heads to come around and keep me in check 🙂

      1. Hm interesting. Thanks for your comment. Since his novels are all first person (except An Abundance of Katherines) perhaps its part of the fact that as characters they don’t have awareness of their own flaws. They are teenagers, and not all teenagers are aware of their flaws either, so is it a reflection of that?

        1. I dunno, honestly I personally doubt that’s the case. But I guess I wouldn’t discount that as a valid interpretation either.

          Now, the real test is seeing if Green can write adults.

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