The Fault in Our Stars
I set myself a goal before the end of 2014: reading The Fault in Our Stars, a book that so many people recommended me to read (or watch the movie adaptation) because it was so touching and I would cry so much and I'd so love it. My natural reaction was mistrust, because that's how I roll. But as more and more people talked about it (and accidentally spoiling the ending for myself), I decided that I needed to check it out and find out if I qualified for Most Insensitive Person of 2014 (spoiler alert: I didn't).
Meet Hazel, 17, with lung cancer and a depression that, according to herself, "is not a side effect of cancer [but] a side effect of dying" (Green, 2012: 3). Because of that, her mother almost forces her to leave the house and go to group support for kids with cancer. There, she meets Augustus Waters (who you will, from now on and forever, picture as Ansel Elgort because of the movie posters and gifs and other stuff that you've been exposed to on the Internet), whose characteristic traits are his half-smile and his habit of putting a cigarrette in his mouth but not actually lighting it. Hazel and Augustus get off on the wrong foot but soon become friends and, eventually, fall in love.
Hazel and I also started on the wrong foot, and it has nothing to do with the fact that I can't not associate her with Shailene Woodley, the actress who played her in the film. I didn't manage to like her throughout the novel. How could I, when this is what she says about her mother, a person who has devoted the past four years or so in her life to take care of Hazel, therefore quitting her job to be a full-time nurse-mom:
Her mother had been expecting her depressed, dying-of-cancer, teenage daughter "to, like, make friends or whatever" (Green, 2012: 20. That's still the first chapter). I mean, that's totally unheard of, ain't it, parents that care about their children, especially when they have a terminal disease. Pff, whatevs. Stupid parents, amirite?
I know that Hazel, with or without cancer, is a teenager (one that has missed most of her teenage years in a hospital bed, by the way) and she is supposed to appeal to a young adult audience (I guess that means 15-18 years old), so I know I'm not the target demographic and I'm more likely to see things from the perspective of an adult. Still... I don't like the way the parents are portrayed, the way Hazel pictures them as sentimental, almost useless creatures. I don't know, I didn't really expect Hazel to be some sort of super patient martyr with a smile on her face on every occasion, but she could at least try to be sympathetic to her parents. It must be horrible for a parent to outlive their child, have you even considered that, Hazel? Have you?
The feminist in me wanted to stop reading when I reached this particular point in chapter 2:
Just in case you can't read it, here's what happens at the beginning of chapter 2: Augustus invites Hazel over to his house to watch his favorite movie, V for Vendetta. When asked about her opinion of the film, Hazel engages in a very old but very harmful activity: LYING to her love interest: she claims that she liked the movie when she actually thinks:
"I don't know why boys expect us to like boy movies. We don't expect them to like girl movies." (Green, 2012: 35).
EXCEPT FOR THE PART WHERE WE DO, HAZEL, or at least we expect them to sit through them in silence while we get our dose of fangirling (I'm not even sure you can use that as a verb). And there's nothing wrong with being a girl and liking "boy movies". Also, define "boy movie", Hazel Grace: is it anything with male protagonists and lots of shooting? If so, is The Godfather a "boy movie"? Because I enjoyed that movie enough to watch it twice and read the book. Are you implying that girls should only watch so-called "chick-flicks" with romance as a main theme, like the adaptation of this book, because it's the "feminine" thing to do?
When my inner feminist (with waxed legs and armpits, FYI, and that shit is expensive and painful) finally calmed down, I went on reading and, although I thought that the first third of the novel is veeeeeeery slow, it makes sense for it to be so, since Hazel and Augustus's lives are just watching the days go by until death calls at their doors. My experience with cancer patients is limited, so I'm not going to discuss whether it would have been more realistic if they had tried to make every day remarkable just in case it was their last one or not. But, from a reader's point of view, it would have been far more interesting than reading their emails and texts.
The interesting part, for me, is when they travel to Amsterdam. I genuinely liked that part, especially when they finally meet the author of their favorite book, and except for making out at the Anne Frank House. I honestly... let's better have Mr. Darcy express my feelings about that scene:
Overall, the book does not deserved being called "damn near genius" (according to the book, that's a quote from Time) nor did it make me "laugh, cry and come back for more" (quoted by Markus Zusak, author of The Book Thief, a book that's on my pending list and might have dropped a few positions in my priority scale because of that particular sentence). I didn't laugh, I didn't really cry - it did get a couple of half-smiles and ironic smirks here and then, it did make my eyes watery in chapter 21 when a very important character dies and there's a whole reflection about it that made me think about what how I would feel if my significant other (who is also, apparently, my only reader - hallo, Schatz!) died. But I honestly expected to burst into tears and really emotional life revelatory sentences, and I didn't get that.
Again, I know I'm not the target audience at its 100%, yet the themes of falling in love and having a loved person die are universal enough, so I guess The Fault in Our Stars could have really been, for me, individually, an actual emotional landmark, had it tried to appeal to a more general audience or, at least, had a more sympathetic main character. Or third-person narration instead of first-person narration!