The Fault In Our Stars has been one of the most anticipated screen adaptations of the year. But is the book behind the movie really worth the hype? Or is the success founded upon being “a sad book”?
Generally referred to as “the book that made everyone cry”, the movie version of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is out in cinemas now – and the build-up has been incredible. The book was released in 2012 (with Green signing the entire first print run of 150,000 books) and debuted at the top of the New York Times Best Seller’s list. Since then, fan art has flooded Tumblr, positive reviews are everywhere and now a much anticipated movie has been released – of which perhaps Green has been the giddiest fan, following and tweeting about the movie from the set to the screen.
But is the story worth the hype?
Sixteen year old Hazel Grace Lancaster suffers from thyroid cancer and requires a portable oxygen tank in order to breathe properly. Dragged to a support group by her parents, she meets Augustus Waters; a former osteosarcoma patient who has had a leg amputated. The Fault in Our Stars (TFiOS) follows their story as they fall in love, travel abroad to meet their favourite writer – and do their best to live life.
From the synopsis, some might feel that this is yet another attempt to milk the cancer sufferer’s story. There will be a superhuman character fighting against the odds. Lengthy prose full of descriptions about their suffering desperately and obviously attempt to make you cry. And in the end, this angelic cancer patient has miraculously conquered all fear of death and accepted it peacefully.
This book is not like that.
Green’s inspiration for the novel (which he wrote when living in Amsterdam) came from a multitude of places; after working as a chaplain in a children’s hospital and having his first child, he learnt that terminally ill people are still people and parents should never have to bury their own children. But perhaps the biggest inspiration is from Esther Earl, a teenager who suffered from thyroid cancer and a friend of Green’s (the book is dedicated to her). She raised money for charities, was a huge part of the Nerdfighter* community and created videos on YouTube. After her death in August 2010, aged sixteen, Green has been a supporter of the foundation set up in her honour (This Star Won’t Go Out), which aims to help families with children diagnosed with life threatening cancer. The site accepts donations and sells merchandise which includes bracelets – Green still wears his daily. Furthermore, Esther Day is celebrated on her birthday amongst the community in her memory. Upon asking her what she wanted people to do, she asked that people say “I love you” to those they find difficult to say, for example to family and friends. A collection of her journals, fiction and letters from Esther has since been made into a book, which you can find here.
There is no exploitation of the cancer story. TFiOS is more than a tear jerker – it’s beautifully written, funny and genuinely moving. It takes love, life, pain and fear and examines it. Not only does it do so in a relatable manner, but does what all great books do; makes you think, feel and understand others better.
Our last article on the book (found here) mentioned a sense of pretentiousness. I agree and disagree with this statement – Augustus is a pretentious character. He says pretentious things and does pretentious things. But his character is more than that and, heartbreakingly, we see all of the characters at their best and worst. Teenagers are smarter than adults think – our minds are not cluttered with cosmetics and crushes. If deep thoughts are pretentious, then so be it. The inevitability of death, the search of love, the reality of being able to truly enjoy life plagues us all, young or old, healthy or ill.
Disability does not define these characters. They are not Othered, they are not dehumanized by their illness. They fall in love and enjoy life – not despite of their condition, but because they’re human. Whether the characters are having picnics or helping a blind friend egg his ex-girlfriend’s car – they are not cancer patients. They are people living their life.
And it’s beautiful.
*Nerdfighters are an online community which emerged from John and his brother Hank Green’s YouTube channel (vlogbrothers). The community has worked with charities such as the Harry Potter Alliance and The Foundation to Decrease World Suck. Here is a video explaining what a nerdfighter is/how to be one.
Christy Ku, Online Books Editorbookmark me