Monday, July 28, 2014

An angry review of The Fault in Our Stars

Note: if you are not interested in being enraged along with me or learning why you should not read “The Fault in Our Stars”, then feel free to skip over this post. It’s more of a rant than a post, anyway. Sometimes a girl’s gotta rant. I also broke this into five parts to make it easier to digest (though you will probably end up with gastrointestinal problems after this anyway).  


Sage words. source
An angry introduction

In the past week, I have been reminded why I hate summer reading.

I have also begun to hope that this fancy-ass new private school to which I am transferring is not as shitty as its choices in literature, because damn. I have been traumatized.

john green the fault in our stars cover
YES. THIS. BITE ME. source

After spending about a week with The Glass Castle, I was reeling from the raw energy and narrative prowess of Jeannette Wallis’s incredible, almost unbelievable memoir. Mostly, the book made me hate humanity even more than I already did, but there were of course other lessons to be gleaned. Like how we are shaped by our surroundings. Nature vs. nurture. All that deep, philosophical stuff. I won’t go into it, because anything that I would have to say has already been said, and said much better than I ever could.

Then I picked up The Fault in Our Stars.

dis gon b gud bear gif
Hoo boy. source

Now, to be fair, I was already a firm anti-nerdfighter prior to reading this shitstorm of a book. To me, the vlogbrothers’ videos are the YouTube equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. The overly fast talking; the incessant jump cuts; the cheesy, predictable jokes; the know-it-all attitude. No, no, and no.

As such, I avoid their channel like most clich├ęd turns of phrase. 

aren't I a clever girl GIF
Haha funny joke June. source

But summer reading—you cannot avoid that. You must read these books, and you must read them now, or your mother will turn off the internet, and I absolutely will not allow that to happen.

Even worse, this particular school requires you to buy the books, as if the tuition and shit wasn’t enough, so you can mark them up with character analyses and pieces of symbolism (or so I presume). So I took the opportunity to make my own penciled-in judgments as I read.

Another quick note: spoilers ahead. Not that you should care—if you haven’t read the book already, I suggest you do not take the time to do so.

To begin, we get a positively peachy little disclaimer. I will paraphrase it by saying: “This is a reminder that holy fuckwads, I actually made this shit up, so all of your complaints that this book is totally unrealistic are, well, invalid.”

You see, Mr. Green is a speshul snowflake. He is beyond criticism.

i'm flawless gif
Sorta like Beyonce. source

He then goes on to say, I paraphrase, “It is totally useless to figure out if this story has any factual basis, because that attacks the [I DO NOT paraphrase] very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species.”

Fuck me, now. source

Let me talk about that smug piece of word vomit for a minute.

He asserts that it’s okay for a story to not have any factual basis. This is true. Harry Potter has very little factual basis, and it is still a fantastic series.

However, he says that “made up stories can matter”. The key word in here is “can”, meaning, they don’t have to matter. And this particular book does not matter at all. Harry Potter, on the other hand, matters a lot, for many reasons: 1) it gets kids interested in readings; 2) it opened up the world of epic / urban fantasy to young readers and brought new life to the genre; 3) it is a beautifully developed and expertly written story that can appeal to all generations and brings families together, sob, so warm and fuzzy. But it’s true.

He then has the gall to say that this “is sort of the foundational assumption of our species.” What the fuck does that even mean? Isn’t the foundational assumption of our species something practical, like, survival = good, or we should all help each other out to make society work, or whatever? No. Not according to Mr. Green.

do i get bonus points if i act like i care gif
It better be a lot of bonus points. source

But why doesn’t The Fault in Our Stars—or, The Fault in My Writing Skills, as I’ve come to call it—matter?

I will try to explain, without breaking my keyboard.

For the uninitiated, this book is about kids with cancer. The main character Hazel, cancer victim, falls in love with this dude Augustus, also cancer victim. They frolic. It ends badly. That’s about it.

And oh happy joy, there is much more enraging shit in this sad excuse for a novel than its boring storyline. 

sarcastic clapping gif
Yay! source

Like the writing, first of all.

An angry red pen

One of the most distinctive traits of Mr. Green’s writing is a balance between pretentious, overwrought writing and totally interjections reminiscent of Tumblr culture—which is not surprising, considering Mr. Green has a tumblr with the URL Fishing Boat Proceeds and a fanbase consisting of, well, teenage Tumblr’rs (or whatever you call them).

Case in point: between pages four and five, we enjoy a paragraph consisting of a single sentence including lots of fancy turns of phrase and big words and adverbs and other modifiers, only to be followed up with “AND YOU TOO MIGHT BE SO LUCKY!”. I think this is supposed to be funny. 

sheldon sarcastic laugh gif
Ha. Ha. source

If you found that funny, good for you, because he continues to pull that shit throughout the entire book.

On page seven, Mr. Green totally gives up and decides that coming up with synonyms for “said” is too difficult and ends up using Me: yadda yadda Mom: yadda yadda format in order to avoid writing an actual conversation. Also includes the non-word “UGGGGG” okay I’m done counting those G’s. Too much tumblring, perhaps?

By page nine, Hazel has met a mysterious and hot stranger. A paragraph is dedicated to describing his hotness, followed by a paragraph describing Hazel’s “myriad inadequacies”. Wow. Sexist much?

Also on page nine: “Look, let me just say it: he was hot.” Really? Incredible! That paragraph talking about how he was “long and leanly muscular” and how he has this great “mahogany hair, straight and short” totally did not convey that sentiment. 

yawn gif
I think he's trying to tell us that it's nap time. source

Soon enough, we begin to see a fetish for the word “aggressively”, using it in every possible context: aggressively poor posture, aggressively sterile, aggressively poor writing, etc. etc. I mean, it’s bad enough that he uses so many adverbs, but that really took the cake.

And don’t let me forget his fetish for Formal Titles. The Literal Heart of Jesus. Thinking About Suffering. Cancer Perks. Everything Has To Be Made A Title For It To Be Important, So Much So That I Wonder If He Has Been Influenced By Jaden Smith.

Mr. Green really is a genius, as Time magazine once said (non-ironically, if you can believe it)—he can write a book that not only pretentious but amateurish as well. Miraculous, really.

But forget about the writing, what’s really important in a book is the meat. The characters, the plot, the message. So let’s talk about the characters.

An angry character

Our main sob story, Hazel, is pretty much perfect. She’s beautiful, she’s smart, she’s funny, she’s quick-witted—everything that a teenage girl could aspire to be. Except for the whole cancer thing.

Augustus, Hazel’s sexy BF, is nearly identical, with a few minor changes. Gorgeous, intelligent, witty, and burdened with cancer.

At the beginning of the book, we are led to believe for a brief moment that Gus actually—gasp—smokes real cigarettes, but then it turns out he engages in the behavior for its “metaphorical resonances”. He puts the killing thing in his mouth, but he doesn’t give it the power to kill him.

Augustus used to be a basketball star, even, before he had an existential crisis and decided the game was a pointless exercise and gave up.

wow gif
*Gags* source

Clearly Mr. Green is not fond of sports.

But wait! This beautiful isn’t completely flawless! Hazel suffers from self-esteem issues, and Augustus—well, he’s got an ego the size of the moon, constantly referring to his own hotness and charm with an inexplicably low level of shame. Yay, traditional gender roles! How progressive!

stepford wives excited gif
Woot. source

Gus ‘n’ Haz also suffer from a severe case of holier-than-thou syndrome, which is exacerbated by the fact that they have terminal illnesses and thus are much wiser and perspective-having than their healthy peers.

For example, at the end of the book, Hazel listens to Gus’s friends talk about how much he loved basketball and how he was a fantastic teammate and all of that warm and fuzzy stuff. But of course, because Gus disclosed only to Hazel that he did not, in fact, like basketball, Hazel feels far superior to these “superficial” friends and knows that only she had true insights into Gus’s character.

She also resents those who leave well-wishes and RIP’s on the various internet “walls” of those who have died from cancer. Because typing something on an online message board is not enough; you must don mourning clothes for a year and bow before their grave every day before dusk and refuse any form of earthly sustenance in order to fully remember and honor such a tragic event. Any less, and Hazel is better than you.

the english language lacks the requisite words to express how much i dislike you gif
True. source

And one more thing about Hazel: as a little background information, Mr. Green has indeed had experience with depression. Which obviously makes him an expert on how it feels to be depressed and how different people react to depression (just like me!). Which obviously forces him to begin the book with a mention of how depressed our main sob story is on the first fucking page. We receive no evidence of this depression throughout the rest of the book, but never mind. This book was made up.

If you haven't read this book, there is another detail you should know about these two lovely teenagers in love: they talk the same way a freshman in college writes after his first philosophy class. Pretentious know-it-alls, basically. It's ridiculous. I am a teenager; I know that NOBODY talks like that or even things like that. Not even me, and I'm perfect. 

Then again, this was made up. 

The rest of the characters are either 1) not fleshed out very well; or 2) not given enough of the spotlight to fully develop.

Take the parents. They are walking, talking stereotypes of the hovering parent, with no unique voices or tics or anything, really, other than different names. Not only that, but they often show their stupidity by acting like they can’t understand what their ever-so-prodigious teenage children are talking about (or reading, in some cases). 

no gif
I'm offended on behalf of parents everywhere. source

Okay, not just parents. Basically every adult in this book.

The only remotely interesting character we meet is Peter van Houten, the deranged author of Hazel’s favorite book, An Imperial Affliction. He is a drunk and slightly mad and a man past his prime; he also lives in the Netherlands, where he baits young, innocent cancer sufferers into visiting his house in hopes of receiving the true ending of a seemingly unfinished novel…only to disappoint them, of course. Hints of his personal past reveal that he has a complex backstory worthy of exploration, but no cigar. Hazel and Augustus dismiss the author with disgust, and don’t lend him another thought. 

sad standing out in the rain gif
Y U LEAVE ME HANGING? source

I sorely hope that we don’t have to analyze characters at this new school. Pray with me, people.

An angry philosophy

The final and most infuriating aspect of this book is its pseudo-philosophical babble. You know me; I like to talk about the nature of things. Hell, the blog is named after a book by Nietzsche (which I’ve never read). But reading this book has given me pause; I now wonder if it really is a good thing to add one’s philosophical beliefs to a YA novel, if it makes you look this pompous and this stupid.

So I’ve learned a lesson.

The first bit of broad, sweeping, and utterly ignorant generalization we experience in The Fault in My Writing Skills is Hazel’s assertion that all cancer books suck. As in, they don’t truly capture the cancer-having experience exactly the way she would like. Which is a valid criticism, and I SUPPOSE THIS BOOK WAS MADE UP but coming from a non-cancer victim like Mr. Green who has probably not read every cancer book in existence, this is sort of a dumb thing to claim. Would be like if I made my character in my epic fantasy novel-in-progress say, “All epic fantasies suck. They don’t really capture how it feels to experience another world. This is, like, way better.”

Self-important much?

i got a big ego kanye west gif
John Green and Kanye West: the great egotists of our time. source

In case you aren’t convinced, consider how Mr. Green refers to HIS OWN MADE-UP BOOK The Imperial Affliction as “a work of genius”. Just…no.

At the beginning of this video, he talks about how pretentious the quote at the beginning of the book is. No fucking duh. You do realize “pretentious” is not a good thing, right?

Early on, we are also introduced to another one of Mr. Green’s token motifs: “side effects”, including but not limited to “of dying”, “of living”, “of evolution”, “of cancer”, etc. etc. This is something that we see throughout the book and apparently it is supposed to be a profound statement on the nature of things, although I don’t see how it teaches you anything that you couldn’t learn by reading the Wikipedia summary of evolution.

Oh and my god, let’s not forget about page 35’s shitbucket of a paragraph starring the classic I Am Right, You Are Wrong. Mr. Green takes the saying “Without pain, how could we know joy?” and purportedly refutes it by stating “suffice it to say that the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate”. This is completely false. It does not affect the taste itself (if there really is an objective measure of taste), yes, but it affects the way we perceive it. All of our perception, when influenced by emotion, is relative.

Before I begin to wrap this up, a final bit of literary idiocy: the acknowledgements at the back of the book contains this smug gem: 

"The author would like to acknowledge:
That disease and its treatment are treated fictitiously in this novel. [...] I am also indebted to [myriad experts], who shared their time and expertise with me on medical matters, which I cheerfully ignored when it suited my whims."

What the actual fuck. You have a bunch of experts at your disposal, and still you ignore their advice? Thank god you aren't writing forensic mystery novels, Mr. Green. 

Oh wait, I forgot. This is the work of a genius, you guyz. He is BEYOND CRITICISM. He MADE IT UP.

And apparently Mr. Green lives in an alternate universe, because I do not understand.

An angry TL;DR

To summarize this book in one word: “no”.

To summarize this review in more than one word: I fear for the world of literature if this is what constitutes a great YA novel in this day and age. There is no way such a ridiculous, unrealistic book can "matter" to our society.

I also have begun to wonder if I really want to write a bestselling YA novel after all. If this is what impresses teenagers these days, do I really want to seek their affection? Or should I seek to write something I am proud of? I think the latter.

I’m a teenager, after all. You can’t discount your own approval.

Anyway. So did you read this book? What did you think? How much do you hate me now? In what ways are you plotting to kill me soon? How long will it take you to round up an army of nerdfighters in order to destroy everything I love? Will you—okay, I’m done. 

13 comments:

  1. I am so sorry you came across such a bad book! Usually whenever I start reading a book, I am determined to finish it! Once time though, I just had to stop, cause it was as crap as above-mentioner LITTERature...Threw the thing away, too bad to pass on....
    What are your favourite books?
    I am a huge fan of The Shadow of the Wind, and The Abhorsen trilogy by Garth Nix, such clever stories :) Now I'm currently working my way through some Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett :) Seriously though, If you haven't read TSOTW and the Abhorsen trilogy, they might be worth a go :) x

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    1. I also loved The Shadow of the Wind, great book!

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    2. Oooh, great suggestions! Love the LITTERature name, I will have to steal that. :) I love Neil Gaiman too, he's brilliant. :D

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    3. *clicks like on both posts above* And feel free to "steal", I was always wondering why it was called litterature in English when I was younger :P Guess it derives from some fancy latin words, but still! Yeh, Imma gawna stick to the good books, preferably from friends' recommendations :) Maybe you could write like a top ten list of books or something? That would be so great! x

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    4. Great idea! Thanks for the suggestion, I will have to keep that in mind :)

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  2. Haha! This is great, I read the book and I was also disappointed. Your in depth review however, makes me dislike it even a little bit more. I will say, the book made me cry a lot, which is easy for me to do and that was probably my fave thing about it, but the ending was just dumb and I really felt like I was hanging, like "that was it?". On the other hand I LOVED Glass Castle! I also read, Half Broke Horses, which I also really enjoyed, which was the story of her grandmother. Love her writing. : )

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    1. Yes! I am meaning to read some more from Jeannette Wallis ASAP, the Glass Castle was just sooo good. :) Half Broke Horses sounds fascinating!

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  3. I reread this post twice, once for the information and the second time just to continue laughing. This basically confirms everything I suspected about this horrific excuse for "literature", except for the part where the author insists that the book is entirely fiction despite basically RIPPING OFF SOME DYING TEENAGE GIRL'S STORY (which he admits, although not the ripping off part, but I'm not exactly betting my firstborn on the family having received a penny in royalties). I'm not sure if this is entirely sane, but I sort of want to hate-read the book now. Only, not really.

    By the way, if the book makes such a big deal about the male love interest being so dreamy, why did they get a reject hobbit to play him?

    #rantover

    Wait, no it's one. One more thing: the guy is named Augustus but Gus for short?? Dear lord, the pretentiousness.

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    1. Haha I totally agree, but I did not know that he based the book off someone's story! How embarrassing for them both. I guess it's already done, nothing to do about it now. And I haven't seen the movie, but he DOES look sort of like a hobbit, you are so right! xD

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    2. ....And he uses his memories of her to get additional media attention for the book: http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/video/john-green-discusses-touching-inspiration-fault-stars-24065627

      Just, you know, so you understand the full extent of his douchery.

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    3. Oh FFS. "Touching" indeed.

      Great find, though, thank you for pointing it out!

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  4. I've had my eye on this book for ages! Hmm, maybe I should re-think my summer buys xD

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