Welcome to a new blog feature, “3 Things That Rocked.” I’ll pick a book I recently read and discuss 3 things that the book did really, really well—and examine ways we can use those techniques in our own writing. Enjoy!
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW. If you haven’t read The Fault in Our Stars, quit reading this post and go order yourself a copy. Seriously.
Ceci n’est pas une pipe: this is not a pipe. Renee Magritte’s iconic painting launched an entire artistic movement, Dadaism, and its self-critical spirit lives on in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. This is not a cancer book. This is not a sappy YA love story. This is not a convoluted, self-referential yet self-deprecating tome of great consequence.
Of course, The Fault in Our Stars is all these things and more. I loved it for embracing these conventions even as it lashed out at them, derided them, fought against them at every turn. It’s such a wonderful, authentically young adult attitude to take.
This is not a cancer book. Our narrator, Hazel, hates cancer books: Nicholas Sparks tearjerkers, you name it. In fact, she finds the whole “cancer” thing pretty played out. Never mind that she’s had her ups and downs in her own battle, and finds her terminal diagnosis a matter of when, not if. Her cancer support network bears all the hallmarks of the Cancer Story: survivors comparing scars, mental and physical; the daily struggles of prosthetic legs and oxygen tanks and what tiny accomplishments bring the greatest reward; the Wish stories of how each Cancer Kid spent his or her charity wish; and then, of course, the heart-breaking third act of the book, when Gus’s cancer returns with a vengeance.
If ever there was a cancer book, The Fault in Our Stars is it. It is the cancer book. All other cancer books should go stand in the corner and think about what they’ve done.
This is not a sappy YA love story. Early on, when Gus and Hazel watch Isaac and Monica making out and whispering their hopey-dopey “Always” mantra to each other, they’re ready to hurl. And yet one simple word—“Okay”—becomes every bit as intense and meaningful for them as their relationship progresses. We all love to act jaded and annoyed by others’ romances, but when you lose yourself in crazy strong love, who can help but to fall into the exact same gag-inducing traps?
And Gus and Hazel are so honest with each other. Hazel never puts on a front for Gus because by the time she’s fallen for him, he knows her too well to bother. And for all his showmanship, Gus is about as genuine as they come. Then—“She loves him, he’s dying”—how cliché does it get? Their story could easily have turned sappy, but instead, it’s just the right amount of knife-twisting, heart-breaking romance.
This is not a post-modern work of staggering brilliance. An Imperial Affliction, Hazel’s favorite book, is supposed to be–but crumbles under scrutiny (much like its deranged author). I’m kind of a sucker for books within books, and the fallibility of such consequential literature can be ham-handed but Green really pulls it off here in a way that laughs at himself before turning his laughter outward.
My only disappointment on this count is that The Fault in Our Stars didn’t end mid-sentence. I was so certain it would!
What factors of The Fault In Our Stars did you love? Have you thought about ways to incorporate them into your own writing?