The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is often described as a ‘Young Adult’ novel, but its appeal transcends this somewhat limited label. It is a story about young adults, but it is also a story about love, loss and living with cancer. Hazel Grace Lancaster is 16 years old and has cancer. When she attends a cancer support group, she meets Augustus Waters, an amputee and survivor of osteosarcoma. The story follows the blossoming relationship between Hazel and Augustus as they grow closer in spite of Hazel’s concern that she will pass away and leave him behind. John Green’s novel is both heartbreaking and hilarious and has captured the hearts of many since its publication in 2012.
The Fault in Our Stars film is due to be released in cinemas in the UK on the 19th June and has been eagerly anticipated by fans since it was announced. It stars Shailene Woodley (Divergent) as Hazel and Ansel Elgort (Divergent, Carrie) as Augustus. Since being released in the USA, the film has so far received positive reviews and is said to be true to the novel. John Green seems to have been quite involved in the filmmaking process, which certainly bodes well for fans of the book. The most recent trailer for the film includes quite a lot of scenes that could spoil the film for those who have not yet read the book (though it definitely is worth reading before watching the film), but for those who have, it appears to be very faithful. Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort seem to fit their roles perfectly – Hazel in particular seems to be almost exactly as I imagined her when I read the book!
The success of John Green’s novel is remarkable. Stories about young people living with cancer are now not unusual, but Green handles this story in a different way. Often, stories involving life-threatening diseases are moving and emotional, but the characters in The Fault in Our Stars seem more realistic and relatable than in many other books of the same genre. This is maybe because the character of Hazel, and the story itself, was inspired by one of the author’s friends, Esther Earl, a 16-year-old who passed away in 2010 from cancer.
The story is certainly very emotional, but also very readable. The Fault in Our Stars feels quick to read and, in my experience, is passed from friend to friend until everyone has read it! The strong emotion is perhaps what encourages people to share it with others; hearing about others’ reactions to story and the characters is always interesting, especially considering many readers’ strong attachment to Hazel and Augustus.
It cannot be denied that the popularity of The Fault in Our Stars is partly due to the popularity of its author, John Green. John and his brother Hank have a YouTube channel with over two million subscribers. Fans of the brothers’ video blog are called ‘Nerdfighters’ and they often rally behind the Green brothers’ creations, which range from books to music to video diary adaptations of classic novels!
In February 2013, I went to an event in London that was part of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars tour. It took place in Cadogan Hall and featured John Green reading from the novel, Hank Green playing some music and the two of them answering some hilarious questions from the audience. The atmosphere was excellent; everyone was talking to each other before the event and John and Hank were so friendly when meeting the audience members. I think that the atmosphere really epitomised the strength of support shown by John Green’s fans and some of the questions from the audience showed a genuine interest in the author’s writing process and an engagement with his writing encouraged by his infectious personality.
However, in my opinion, the incredible success that the novel has achieved is predominantly a result of the writing itself. The way John Green writes is a bit like the way he talks: it is eloquent and clever, but also very human. The characters of both Hazel and Augustus are witty, sarcastic and highly relatable, but some of their comments are incredibly intelligent and poignant. Some say that Green’s writing can sometimes border on pretentious, but I think that his creation of clever, eloquent teenage characters engages a readership that is too often patronised. What sets The Fault in Our Stars apart is not its story, moving as it is, but its true engagement with the reader.