Pop Culture Homework Assignment #12: The Fault in Our Stars

I am not a book hipster. Or at least, I don't think I'm a book hipster. That is to say, I don't dislike popular books just because they're popular. I admit that I don't get the acclaim that a lot of heralded authors get (Jonathan Franzen springs to mind), but I try to give everything a fair shot. In reading glowing articles about John Green's 2012 smash hit, The Fault in Our Stars, I did worry about its popularity. A little nagging voice in my head told me that it would be the book equivalent of a Hallmark Card or a Lifetime Original Movie about cancer.

I did my best to ignore that voice, put myself on the waiting list at the library, and in the meantime, avoided absolutely everything having to do with the movie. I wanted to be sure and experience this in the same way the other first-time readers did. I managed to stay unspoiled, and after a lengthy wait, finally worked my way to the top of the list.

The Fault in Our Stars is told from the point-of-view of Hazel, a sixteen-year-old girl with terminal lung cancer. She has to navigate not only the obvious health problems her disease brings, but the societal problems of being a kid living on borrowed time. When she meets fellow cancer sufferer Augustus, they instantly connect. Since he's in remission, their relationship is fraught with her fears that she's adding another heart to be broken when she succumbs to the cancer, but he's persistent.

They bond over a book and the reclusive author who wrote it, making plans to go overseas to speak with him. Nothing turns out the way they expect, and soon they have to contend with problems much more dire than a mean old alcoholic author.

Make no mistake, this is a textbook tearjerker, but thankfully, it's not exploitative. Hazel's inner monologue is very relatable, with understandable mixtures of guilt and hope and fear and love and lust and resignation. Far from coming off as three-hankie melodrama, all of the characters' feelings are discussed openly, frankly, and honestly.

If I have to fault to book for anything, it's for Hazel and Augustus' hyper-intelligence. They're both far smarter and emotionally mature than any real teenager ever could be; it's almost as if their disease feels bad for them, and has compensated for all of their failing organs by supercharging their brains and souls.

That's a minor complaint, though. Overall, I really enjoyed the thoughtful, quiet nature of this book, and wound up liking far more than I thought I was going to. Sometimes, the Pop Culture Homework Project confirms the initial biases that kept me away from a popular title in the first place. But books like these are why I keep it going. Because sometimes, I really did miss something special.

The Fault in Our Stars: A-


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