By Irene F. Starkehaus -
Title: The Fault in Our Stars I Author: John Green I Publisher: Penguin/Dutton Juvenile
Young Adult literature is defined by the American Library Association as fiction that would be appropriate for children between the ages of 12 to 18. A branch of the American Library Association known as the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) offers the following synopsis for Fault in Our Stars:
Hazel and Gus are both Cancer Kids with very different prognoses when they meet and bond over what they share outside of their disease. Funny, poignant, charming, honest and powerful.
Actual Plot Summary: Sixteen year old Hazel Lancaster was stricken with terminal cancer when she was just thirteen years old. She was given an experimental drug therapy that has halted the growth of her tumors but lives every day with the understanding that her solution is just temporary. She no longer attends high school because she was able to achieve her GED. She takes classes at the local community college and this has been interesting but it leaves her detached from her school friends. Her mother realizes that Hazel is growing depressed and forces her to attend a cancer support group. This is where she meets Augustus.
Hazel and Augustus enjoy reading to help them find meaning in their afflictions. Hazel directs Augustus toward a book called An Imperial Affliction which seems to capture the devastation of battling terminal illness in a way that no other books can. Both Hazel and Gus are captivated and perturbed by the rapid dead-ending of the storyline, which was done for literary effect as a way of illustrating the abrupt nature of death. The body of The Fault in Our Stars deals with Hazel and Gus tracking down their favorite author to find out what happens to the characters after the An Imperial Affliction concludes.
In their hunt for answers, they are overcome with intense feelings for one another and become sexually intimate. Gus soon after informs Hazel that his cancer has returned and the end of the story deals with his devastating physical deterioration and death.
This young adult book has earned a Mature Content rating for extreme language, sexual content, mild depression and mild socially inappropriate humor. It receives four stars for story development. The star rating does not indicate a recommendation but rather that the author accomplished what he or she intended to achieve:
Review: The Fault in Our Stars is at times an interesting, thought provoking philosophical work of fiction, but it fails on multiple levels out of the author's sheer conformity to the gluttony of modern intellectualism. Additionally, I would be negligent in recommending it for anyone under the age of seventeen. For many reasons that I will discuss later in this review, the book is more advanced than most children between the ages of 12 and 16 will fully handle. And of course, there is the obligatory sexual encounter that really adds nothing to the story other than cliché and gauche, so parents will want to keep that in mind if they would prefer their children be exposed to literature rather than lazy pastiche.
Before the story begins, author John Green offers the following reminder to his young readers:
"This is a work of fiction. I made it up. Neither novels nor their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such attempts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species. I appreciate your cooperation in this matter."
So goes our author's theory of literary relativism. An artist is beholden to nothing but his muse. An author must write freely and without concern for the emotions that his words will provoke. I believe that this is a decent enough truism…true enough to be embroidered on a throw pillow allowing for one caveat.
The children's novelist bears a great deal of responsibility for how his words may affect the formation of the young mind. By definition, the YA novelist writes for children – legal minors – and therefore, the YA novelist must restrain his creative impulses for the betterment of his audience. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it works. It must be so or there's no actual reason to create a distinction between novelists and YA novelists.
It's a simple formula to follow…if the protagonist of a YA book is a 16 year old girl then the target audience is a 14 to 16 year old girl with rare exceptions. If the book is about a 16 year old boy then it will attract a wider audience but will only rarely include readers that are older than the main character.
America's intelligentsia may wish otherwise, but teenaged boys don't often seek out books about the deepest, inner-most thoughts of adolescent females. Again, I'm sorry. Katy Perry isn't half naked on the Teenage Dream album to stir the intellectual curiosity of young adult males regarding her favorite 16th century poets. Would that it was different, but it is not. Teenaged girls, however, do seek out books about the deepest, inner-most thoughts of adolescent males – there's an entire industry of teen idol magazines featuring the likes/dislikes for members of One Direction that will serve to enflame the passions of the average 12 to 16 year old girl if you think to doubt me on this.
Character Hazel Lancaster is a sixteen year old girl who is dying of terminal cancer and that's a great literary device for getting young adults...and yes, mostly girls in this case… to think about the inevitability of their own mortality, so I'm willing to overlook the fact that she speaks with the pontificating intellectualism of a 40 year old PhD in philosophy instead of a sixteen year old GED recipient and community college student. I'll suspend that disbelief and go with "gifted" for expedience.
But – to quote the American Library Association – "funny, poignant, charming, honest and powerful" are not the words I would use to characterize Hazel. She's not as funny as she is glib. She's not as poignant as she is irreligious. Charming and honest are not how I would describe her internalized eye rolling as she deals with anyone that she believes is too Christian. Hazel is a sardonic, acerbic nihilist. It's no wonder that the ALA loves this book.
Keep in mind that regardless of John Green's half-hearted warnings over not taking it too seriously, the truth that Hazel is all of these negatives wrapped up in her end-of-her-world melodrama is what will attract the average 15 year old girl to adopt…if not all ofthe smarter-than-thou apostasy that a forty something man posing as a 16 year old girl can muster, at least the attitudes that she can identify as leading to the proper pseudo-intellectualist clique. It doesn't hurt that this book is also the hottest film on the big screen right now either. That exclusive clique will reward young women for confusing genuine philosophical exploration with the reduction of everyone else who thinks outside of their narrow worldview to intellectual livestock.
And still, that's not the greatest tragedy of The Fault of Our Stars.
The tragedy – once again, because this discussion comes up a lot in our little book reviews… is that it should have been a great book. Adults will recognize the crass make out session between Gus and Hazel at the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam followed by the loss of their virginity like an hour after the gut-wrenching history tour of a slain child's last residence as revelry in the basest, most ignoble self-indulgence imaginable…but WTF, right?
It's just a story and the story is about dying teens who have the right to a little self-indulgence, so if these fictional characters act upon their lust/love by getting some in the afterglow of holocaustic despair, then we should understand that it's morally justified. If they want to ridicule Christian theses on Heaven and Hell without actually exploring any Christian theses on Heaven and Hell (and no, repeating the phrase "we are literally in the heart of Jesus…literally" ad nauseam doesn't constitute any actual in-depth analysis of Christian traditions), if they want to discount parental struggles through grief as all platitudinal poppycock that is well beneath their own grander understanding of loss, then these fictional characters can go ahead and express themselves sans regrets because – again – they are fictionally dying and therefore justified in their contempt. Let us celebrate.
A hundred reviewers will explain that this approach to adolescent angst is all very cutting-edge in that the author allows young adults to travel through such raw barbarism within the confines of literature as it is defined by John Green. We are directed to exult in the uniqueness of his highly stylized themes for this reason. And therein lies the rub.
Because I can point to fifty or so books on the ALAs list of recommended young adult literature for 2013 and at least another fifty on the list for 2014 that provide an overabundance of unique moral justifications for precisely the exact same bad behaviors – at least hundred young adult books recommended by YALSA over the course of two years that will construct various exceptions to the rules of civility, a hundred books that will instruct children on the different ways that they can justify sex without consequence, contempt for traditional values, fervent irreligiosity...and yes, I know there's no such word. Desperate times call for desperate actions. Ultimately, each and every one of those books renders down to just another John Hughes-esque plot device for getting Molly Ringwald laid. For clarification, I mean Molly Ringwald as the reoccurring face of femme-fatale within nearly every brat pack movie of the 1980s. I know nothing about Ringwald beyond that.
The Fault in Our Stars is not unique in any way shape or form as it takes on the role of "just more of the same" with fervent adherence to the Left's theology of profanation. The only thing that's stand out about this book is that it could have been great and settled for pedestrian and even that falls into the category of been there, done that.