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Few faults in these 'Stars'

New young adult novel overcomes flaws with beautiful prose; treats heavy themes delicately

The Fault In Our Stars would be a troublesome novel if it were not so beautifully executed. While its characters – and I mean, every character – are contrived figures of fanboy fantasy, and any potential for narrative realism is completely lost with an ill-advised plot twist halfway through the book, I was more than happy to suspend my disbelief to keep enjoying the insightful lyricism of author John Green’s prose.

The Fault in Our Stars is Green’s fourth solo novel. Sixteen-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster is our narrator, and in the book’s opening pages we learn of her battle with thyroid cancer. Although she is in stable condition thanks to an experimental miracle drug called “Phalanxifor,” her projected lifespan is unknown, and she still thinks she’s dying. Her gloomy outlook changes when she meets Augustus Waters, a 17-year-old now in remission, whose osteostarcoma took most of his right leg. Brought together by their diseases and their shared love for existentialist literature and lofty metaphors, the teens enjoy their unorthodox courtship. The fun of The Fault in Our Stars lies in the development of this relationship, during which Hazel comes into her own, even as she is once again forced to question the relative brevity of her existence.

A No. 1 New York Times Bestseller heralded as a revelation by top critics and seemingly every literary blog in existence, The Fault In Our Stars has all the makings of an instant young adult classic – and yes, the movie rights have already been optioned. Even before the book’s Jan. 10 release, Green had already made a name for himself among the intellectual youth culture familiar with his previous novels. He also has more than one million Twitter followers and 600,000 YouTube subscribers, a growing mass of fans he affectionately deems “nerdfighters.”

As poignant and heartbreaking as Hazel and Augustus’ doomed love story is, they are by no means realistic characters. We would all love to believe people like them exist: introspective mini-philosophers with the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it wit of a Diablo Cody screenplay and the ravishing good looks that even advanced-stage terminal illnesses can’t conceal. Hazel certainly has a Manic Pixie Dream Girl vibe about her, and it’s no wonder old-soul Augustus is captivated by her quirky brand of sexuality. But, taken individually, these two are caricatures.

The fact that I simply did not care about the book’s unrealistic characterization speaks volumes about Green’s beautiful style, which can only be described as flawless. Sometimes grandiose – “My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.” – sometimes understated – “Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.” – the prose itself made me more than willing to overlook the lack of a relatable protagonist. There’s a refrigerator magnet waiting to happen on every page, and I mean that in the best way possible.

With his penchant for spinning tear-jerking tales of unrequited young love, I would call Green the Nicholas Sparks of the Juno generation, but that would be far too generous to Mr. Sparks. Both can pile on the melodrama, to be sure, but Green has an uncanny ability to make sense of the monumental unfairness of 16-year-olds dying of cancer with words of wisdom like, “What a slut time is. She screws everybody.” Black humor is difficult to pull off, and yet Green does it page after page with remarkable ease. I hate to dishonor the complexity of Green’s writing with a cliche, but I laughed, and I cried. And then I read it again.

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