The Fault in Our Stars by John GreenReviewed by Ellen
Language: Frequent, regular usage of every swear word; one F-word; crude language such as “douchepants,” “humping,” and other sexual innuendo. Many instances of profanity.
Violence: Gus and Isaac play a violent, anti-terrorist-themed video game called “Counter-insurgence 2” with a high body count. The game is discussed while being played, but other than that, there is no actual violence in the book.
Sexual Content: Isaac makes out with his girlfriend and fondles her breast. Gus and Hazel discuss whether he is caressing her or giving her a breast exam. Hazel secretly wonders if that would feel nice. Hazel tells a girlfriend she is seeing Gus, who replies, “oh, sweet holy Lord, I would ride that one-legged pony all the way around the corral.” Gus and Hazel talk about their last kisses and about being virgins. Gus laments that he might die a virgin. While in Amsterdam together, they kiss passionately and return to Gus’s hotel room where it is perfectly understood that they are virgins no longer (a condom is mentioned). One brief paragraph and no explicit details.
Adult Themes: When Hazel’s mom tells her that she needs to get out of the house more and be a normal teenager, she jokingly says, “Buy me a fake ID so I can go to clubs, drink vodka, and take pot.” Gus pretends to smoke cigarettes, but never lights them (“You put the killing thing in your mouth, but you don’t give it the power to kill you.”) Gus and Hazel drink champagne at a romantic dinner, though both are underage, and decide they love it. Van Houten is an alcoholic. Hazel takes a sip of vodka.
Hazel Grace Lancaster is a 16-year-old cancer patient living in Indianapolis. Her prognosis is terminal, but a miracle drug has prolonged her final days into one big, long question mark–she knows she will die, she just doesn’t know when. She spends her days in bed, sniffing oxygen from a cannula tank, watching reruns of America’s Next Top Model, and reading and re-reading her favorite book An Imperial Affliction (about a teenage girl who dies of cancer). Her mother thinks Hazel is depressed and encourages her to attend a cancer therapy group for kids, where she meets Augustus Waters, an ex-basketball player and amputee who is currently in remission from osteosarcoma. He is sexy and smart, and the first boy ever to glance her way. The two of them form a friendship which turns romantic yet tenuous, as Hazel is wary of falling in love when she fears she will die and break Augustus’s heart.
All of that changes, however, when Gus decides to cash in his “wish” from the Genie Foundation for a trip to Amsterdam. He brings Hazel along, and the two decide to track down the author of An Imperial Affliction, who left readers hanging when his main character died in mid-sentence. Hazel is obsessed with finding out what happened to the other characters at the book’s end; she sees it as a metaphor for her life. Meeting Peter Van Houten, the author, proves frustrating and disappointing as he has quit writing and become an alcoholic. But it forces Hazel and Augustus to re-examine their lives in a different light. Life has more meaning, they discover, than trying to leave behind a meaningful legacy for the world to remember. Sometimes leaving behind worthwhile memories for one meaningful person is enough.
Few of us can relate to living with a life-threatening illness, especially as teenagers, and John Green tells this story with candor and humor, minus the sappy sentimentality you might expect in a book with such a heavy subject matter. The characters are engaging and witty, but they often philosophize beyond their young years. Aside from their rather sophisticated vocabularies, I also wonder how many teens actually know who Kirkegaard and Heidegger are. (Then again, maybe if you’ve spent the last three years of your life reading, being home-schooled, fighting cancer and pondering the meaning of your life, you have time to get pretty deep.) Apart from these petty observations, the book is a commentary on the fragility of life, the randomness of its injustices, and how “some infinities are bigger than others.” Green’s writing can be lyrical and compelling: I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once. Due to its language and sexual content, I recommend upper high school for this book.