This review contains spoilers.
Despite the tumour-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.
A lot of people have recommended that I read The Fault in Our Stars. So, eventually, I did.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t a fan.
There are a lot of explicit spoilers under the cut so read on at your own peril. (Watch out for V for Vendetta spoilers as well.)
I suppose I should establish from the get-go that Tumblr has been posting about this book for ages and I knew how it ended. I wouldn’t say it was necessarily spoiled for me, though. I cry at the tiniest of things like The Biggest Loser transformations (even when I haven’t watched the show and have no idea who the people are) and iPhone ads. Seriously. I went to get the YouTube link for that iPhone ad and I still teared up even though it has been OVER EIGHT MONTHS since it’s been on TV. I never used to be like this. I mean, I withstood crying at the end of Finding Neverland while everyone around me sobbed at Freddie Highmore’s puppy dog eyes. But at some point I became a complete wuss.
Knowing that, I was expecting to have an ugly cry at the end of The Fault in Our Stars and I didn’t. I teared up two times throughout my read: once when Hazel’s dad talked about what a privilege it it to love someone so special; and once from frustration when I was reading the book on my lunch break and accidentally spilled some pasta sauce on a page.
I think, for me, the problem was that I didn’t connect with the characters. I felt like I was being constantly smacked in the face with their supposed awesomeness and, as a result, I ended up thinking they were not at all awesome and I wouldn’t mind headbutting them.
There were two sections within the first few pages that made me literally roll my eyes and put the book down for a second to compose myself.
The first was Hazel’s summary of V for Vendetta: ‘The movie was about this heroic guy in a mask who died heroically for Natalie Portman, who’s pretty badass and very hot and does not have anything approaching my puffy steroid face.’ (Augustus had earlier compared her to Natalie Portman.)
Seriously? That’s what you got from that movie? Hazel and Augustus are nuts for metaphors and deep thoughts but the synopsis for V for Vendetta gets boiled down to a love story instead of a message about the power of ideas. Also, V did not die heroically for Natalie Portman’s character. V got shot up by a bunch of dudes while he was fighting for his cause. Evey wasn’t even anywhere near him at that point. If you’re going to include something like this in your book, at least get your facts straight. Clearly Hazel was too busy thinking about whether or not Augustus would hold her hand to pay attention to what was happening on the screen. That’s not a random dig, by the way—at the top of the same page Hazel is positioning her hand strategically on the couch so Augustus will know he’s allowed to hold it.
And then she says that the movie wasn’t all that great: ‘It was kind of a boy movie. I don’t know why boys expect us to like boy movies. We don’t expect them to like girl movies.’
I kind of got the impression that Hazel wasn’t quite so into gender binaries and ‘boy movies’ and ‘girl movies’. But if you’re a dude writing from the perspective of a teenage girl, I guess I should allow for some weird ‘girly’ comments.
The second eye-roll inducing moment came when Hazel went over to hang out with Augustus and Isaac. Hazel is wearing a ‘just-past-the-knee dress’ she’s had forever. Augustus says, ‘Girls think they’re only allowed to wear dresses on formal occasions, but I like a woman who says, you know, I’m going over to see a boy who is having a nervous breakdown, a boy whose connection to the sense of sight itself is tenuous, and gosh dang it, I am going to wear a dress for him.’
First of all, Augustus, shut up. No one wants or needs your opinion on dresses. And who in the world gave you the idea that girls think they’re only allowed to wear dresses on formal occasions? Why are girls allowed or disallowed to do anything with their clothing?
That comment made me want to wear dresses every day for the rest of my life and bathe in the blood of my enemies.
I didn’t like Augustus in general. Honestly, he reminded me of basic skeezes I know in real life. The big difference between those real-life people and Augustus is attractiveness. Apparently Hazel is okay with Augustus being a total skeeze/doesn’t notice it at all because, as she reminds us throughout the book, he’s super attractive.
Also, don’t get me started on the ‘my cigarette is a metaphor’ thing because that comment actually made me feel embarrassed for this dude. I didn’t find it all cool or sexy and it reminds me of something a sixth-grader would say. When the air hostess told Augustus to put his metaphor away, I cheered for her and could imagine a fleeting look of disgust on her face.
There were a bunch of little things that got on my nerves throughout this book, like the fact that I have never talked as pretentiously as these characters in my whole life. Having studied literature at uni for both my undergrad and postgrad, Augustus using big words erroneously got on my nerves. And then there was the whole making out in the Anne Frank House. I wasn’t necessarily opposed to the kiss. I was opposed to Hazel’s rationalisation for it, which was that ‘Anne Frank, after all, kissed someone in the Anne Frank House, and that she would probably like nothing more than for her home to have become a place where the young and irreparably broken sink into love.’
That kind of justification reminded me of Justin Bieber’s ‘Hopefully she would have been a Belieber’ comment about Anne Frank. I mean, it’s nowhere near as bad but it’s still self-serving and stupid. How about you spend time in the Anne Frank House thinking about Anne Frank and what she went through instead of trying to twist it to your own use?
I was also opposed to the fact that people applauded when Hazel and Augustus finished kissing. The fact that Hazel made it up all those stairs with an oxygen tank is something worthy of applause. A public make-out session is not.
The main thing that got me, though, was Hazel’s situation. She spent a lot of time pushing Augustus away because she couldn’t handle being the person who died; she couldn’t handle leaving someone behind to deal with her absence. Augustus made it perfectly clear that he was happy to be left behind and so Hazel eventually came around.
But I don’t recall anyone asking Hazel if she was okay to be left behind. Augustus knew full well that he was terminally ill and chose to let Hazel believe that he was healthy. It was only after they had sex that he told her and even then it wasn’t of his volition; Hazel’s mother made sure that the truth was revealed. And then what does Hazel say? ‘I’d have done the same to you.’
Except you DIDN’T, remember? You did the exact OPPOSITE thing. And Augustus knows it. His response is, ‘No, you wouldn’t’ve, but we can’t all be as awesome as you.’ It’s not that Hazel’s awesome, Augustus. It’s that she didn’t lie. That’s not some awesome feat. That’s just not incredibly selfish.
Hazel says that she can’t blame him. At this point, yes, she’s in love with Augustus. Her judgement is clouded. But if she had been told at the outset that Augustus was going to die, would she have hesitated? Maybe she would have jumped in going, ‘We’re both going to die. Let’s have sex while we can.’ That is a definite possibility. But she didn’t even get the option to make that decision for herself.
I have been told that I am soulless because I didn’t cry over this book. I’ve also been told I’m soulless because I’m a ranga so I’m used to it.
Some friends think I would have liked the book better if I had read it pre-hype/before it became a ‘thing’. But I don’t believe my feelings about Hazel and Augustus would have changed if I’d read this book a year earlier; my taste in characters is not so malleable.
The verdict: I can see why people like this book: the romance has a very Disney feel. But, since I wasn’t a fan of Augustus as a character, I couldn’t romanticise the way he acted. I find confidence attractive, but not arrogance. And, personally, I felt that Augustus came off as skeezy.
YA is a very broad genre and sometimes the books are hit and miss for me. The Fault in Our Stars wasn’t to my taste but, having read it, I can at least have a conversation the next time someone asks me about it.
I rate it ★★