24 July, 2014

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars

From Goodreads: Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

Thoughts: I listened to this as an audio book. It was narrated by Kate Rudd, who is not someone I had every heard of before. I mention this because I have come to realise how important a narrator is to an audio book. Kate Rudd is a good narrator. I didn't find myself distracted by her voice, it didn't sound "put on", she made the book enjoyable.
It's easy to see why this book has done so well. I found it to be a strong story that dealt with the tough topic of teenage cancer sufferers without becoming condescending or clich├ęd. It became apparent to me what was going to happen fairly quickly, but I think anyone with half a brain would have seen it. I don't think John Green set out to put in a big twist that no one would see coming, instead I think he wanted a book with emotion and thoughtfulness and I think he achieved it.
The book made me cry, but I don't think I cried where most YA readers would have. The parts that had me almost sobbing as I sat in the car park at Woolworths (handy hint - emotion laden books while driving, not such a good idea!) was the conversation Hazel had with her parents towards the end of the book. Hazel is living on borrowed time - you know it the whole way through. As a parent, I cannot and do not want to imagine what that feels like. Hazel's fears for her parents took my breath away and had me wanting to reach out and grab her, hold her close and promise her they would be ok and then I wanted to tell her parents that when it came, I would support them too.
One of the thing Green is a master of is producing quotes you just know teens are scrawling down all over the place because those words touched them. Google A Fault in our Stars quotes and you'll see what I mean. Here's a taste:

The thing is, I remember just about every scene where those words were spoken. I could put them in chronological order for you. John Green writes words that have power. The problem may be believing those words come from teens.
After a short FB discussion with a friend about AFioS I started to think about the portrayal of teens in young adult books. I know I have often thought that the characters are unbelievable, wise beyond their years - and this holds true for AFioS. The insights and reactions of Hazel, Gus and even Issac is way beyond what I think most teenagers would display. But here's the thing, I don't remember ever thinking that when I was a young adult reading such books - and I don't think the characters in the books have changed that much. What has changed, obviously, is me. I'm older, I have more experience and I am now (far) distant from being a young adult and therefore the direct target audience for these books. So here's my conclusion on teens wise beyond their years in YA books - they have to be. If the characters in YA books were your typical teens, you wouldn't get the stories you do. I think it's also a way of showing YA readers what they can become, presents a model of maybe who they'd like to be. This slightly unrealistic presentation of their age group doesn't worry them because they can imagine that's what they could be like. If adults truly want to get the best out of YA books, they need to stop expecting them to be books for adults and accept they are books for young adults - teens.