Sunday, February 23, 2014

(Spoilers) The Fault in Our Stars: Book Review-ish

***SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers may be found in the post below about VARIOUS ITEMS. And I'm going to add in a bit of filler text here to limit how much of the main article gets shown in a preview. That should take care of most of it. Hopefully. And away we go. SPOILER WARNING. ***

I missed reading -- can't believe I'm saying this.

Exactly a year ago, my commute was still three to four hours a day, so I took up reading. A few hundred dollars later and a move to my original office, and the habit just got left behind. No longer was there time (or space) to read on the commute to or fro due to the frequent vehicle changes. Why not do it at hime? I don't know...

Why I picked this book up
Well, now I have a Kindle and made the time to read "entertainment". Book number two for the device was The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. This book was picked up because of various recommendations by random people I appear to listen to and the Amazon "You May Also Like" section. To top it off, there's apparently a movie adaptation being made starring an actress from The Descendants with George Clooney that I recently watched and loved...

I'm going to be honest: I thought this was some sort of self-help book like What Color is Your Parachute? that many have recommended I read -- didn't. It turns out The Fault in Our Stars is about teenagers and cancer. Oh.


A short summary
It's a story about a 16 year old girl, Hazel Grace, who's been living with stage 4 cancer, her life, her thoughts, and her growth through a tragic relationship with a (the?) love of her life. The book is narrated in the first person by Hazel, and the relationship is with a cancer survivor and amputee named Augustus. We see them meet, become best friends, fall in love, and tragically part ways. This story takes them from Indiana to Amsterdam, then back again.

***Major Spoilers***

Review-ish and Thoughts
The story kind of reminds me of Napoleon Dynamite, the movie. There's no major story arc unless you count the two trying to get some answers to the book, An Imperial Affliction, from the author. It takes them to Amsterdam, but that's about it. One of the more common complaints about Napoleon Dynamite is that there's no plot aside from a school president election. But the movie isn't that simple. I love it because of the characters, the comedy, Napoleon's growth and development, his friendship with Pedro and Deb, and the overall positive mood.

What this book is really about is the exploration of life, growth, and death from the point of view of a 16 year old who's around death every day. She falls in love, possibly for the first time unless I missed something, loses him to cancer, and learns more about herself and life -- all of this happens in spite of her stage 4 cancer diagnosis. In fact, her condition gives her a unique view of life. It's a character story where the most important part of whatever happens is how it impacts the characters.

There isn't a moment in the book where Hazel or the reader isn't reminded of sickness. Hazel, August, and their other friend, Isaac, are all cancer victims and carry the burdens of their illness daily. With Hazel, she is chained to oxygen canisters and a breathing assistance apparatus. August is an amputee. Isaac loses his second eye midway through the story. The fourth major character is the author of An Imperial Affliction who lost his very young daughter to cancer, wrote the book partly in tribute to her, and tries to wash the pain away with alcohol even years later.

I actually looked the book, An Imperial Affliction, up on Amazon thinking that it was real until I got to the part where the characters started writing to the author. Lots of books reference real-life books and movies for foreshadowing, to create imagery, and parallels. I haven't bothered to do much analysis to figure out how all the referenced materials work in the context of The Fault in Our Stars. However, it kind of feels like they are used, in part, to throw the reader off the fact that it's not a real book: surprise, the writer's an integral character! That's not to say the fake book isn't used as a literary device -- it definitely is.

Not being a big fan of Shakespeare outside of what they forced me to read in school, I did not know that "the fault in our stars" is a line from Julius Caesar. The line's about fate, in general, and likely relates to astrology -- there's more to that line in Julius Caesar. As a story about teenage cancer victims, fate is just a theme that is difficult to ignore.

Can't say that I didn't have an idea of how it would end being a story about cancer. Still, it's a tragic but hopeful story in the end. I have no problem recommending it -- not that it needs anymore help being a best seller.

A Movie Adaptation?
A movie should be coming out later in 2014 based on the book. That was fast. It stars Shailene Woodley who's been in a bunch of shows and movies. The only one I've seen is The Descendants with George Clooney, which I found very good. Might have to check this out just to see what they change.

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