Keeping Up With The Penguins

Reviews For The Would-Be Booklover

The Fault In Our Stars – John Green

Well, it’s about time I got around to reading The Fault In Our Stars. After John Green announced the title of this, his sixth book, it immediately rose to #84 on the best-seller list. And that was just the title! (It’s drawn from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, by the way: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings”.) He foolishly promised to personally sign each pre-order, which is how he ended up having to autograph every single copy of the first print run. He even polled the public as to what colour Sharpie he should use, and divvied up the 150,000 copies according to the proportion of the vote that each colour received.

The Fault In Our Stars - John Green - Book Cover Laid On Wooden Table - Keeping Up With The Penguins
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Of course, The Fault In Our Stars went on to debut at #1 on the New York Times Best Seller List for Children’s Chapter Books, and it remained there for seven consecutive weeks. It’s also appeared on pretty much every other best seller list known to man, it topped the Time List of Fiction Books for 2012, and recent estimates suggest that there are over a million copies in circulation. It has become the definitive sick-lit young adult novel… so, like I said, it’s about bloody time I read it.

The story follows the relationship of the narrator, 16-year-old cancer patient Hazel Lancester, and her 17-year-old amputee boyfriend, Augustus Waters. They meet in a naff support group for teenagers with cancer. I appreciated Green’s skipping over all of the “life-changing diagnosis” tropes – The Fault In Our Stars is a book about living with cancer, which comes as a refreshing change of pace. However, my appreciation of the story pretty much ended there, I’m afraid.

Augustus seems to be more an assortment of affectations than an actual character. In fact, you could call him a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It left a yucky taste in my mouth. He has this whole “I carry around cigarettes but never actually light them because it’s a metaphor” thing, and I had to forcibly restrain myself from dry heaving every time it was mentioned.

I know the legions of fans out there will hate me for this, but I really wasn’t drawn into the tragic teenage love story, either. In fact, the only parts that really drew me in were the scenes about Hazel’s mother. Hazel describes one particular scene where she was in the ICU, close to death, and she overheard her mother sobbing “I won’t be a Mom anymore!”. That got me right in the feels! Maybe I’m getting old…?

All that said, I’m very aware that I’m very alone in my garbage opinion. The Fault In Our Stars has received massive critical acclaim. It was praised largely for its “humour” (ha!), its “strong characters” (double ha!), language, themes, and perspective on romantic relationships between cancer patients.

The very few less-than-positive reviews I came across criticised Green’s choice of subject matter, arguing that it’s exploitative – and I can see where they’re coming from. Green would have been very well aware of the attention that his book would receive, and surely he would (should?) have considered the risk of his making real-life teenage cancer patients circus acts in the lives of his fans. Ultimately, though, it seems like he couldn’t resist the temptation to write the topic that would yank (hard!) on the maximum number of heart-strings. In that, he was definitely successful.

He sold the film rights almost straight away, and the feature film was released two years after publication. It was a huge commercial success too, grossing over $307 million worldwide (on a budget of just $12 million). I watched it myself, after I’d read the book, hoping I’d enjoy the story more if I was one step removed from the teenage girl narration (a la The Hunger Games)… but no dice. It wasn’t a terrible movie, by any means, but I’d struggle to recall a single moment or performance that really stood out for me.

In the end, I’d say the main reason to read The Fault In Our Stars is basically just to catch-up with the rest of the world. Like Harry Potter before it, there’s a whole generation coming up behind us with a deep emotional investment in this book – it’s probably going to be the reason that some teenagers decide to study medicine, or Shakespeare, or any other number of things. If the doctor treating me in my nursing home once loved this book, I’d sure as shit like to have something to say about it, in the hopes that it’d make them like me enough to keep me alive a little longer. I’m all about the long game 😉

My favourite Amazon reviews of The Fault In Our Stars:

  • “There is literally nothing wrong with this book except for one awkward sentence about knees that I wish had been worded better.” – Amazon Customer
  • “The best part of the book is that it’s over.” – David Kim
  • “Lovely book. It’s the first time ever I was rooting for the teenagers to have sex.” – Kris Matsumoto Wong
  • “Tolerable, but not life changing” – Kenneth choi
  • “It’s basically twilight with cancer.” – janathan tatum
  • “These 1-star Amazon reviews are better written than this book….” – Lily Pop


  1. I’m with you. I could not understand the critical acclaim for this book AT ALL. Maybe its popularity with run-of-the-mill readers in search of a shameless tear-jerker is more comprehensible, but even there I’m a bit baffled. It just felt so contrived to me.

  2. I read this ages ago so can’t really remember what I thought about it. I never felt compelled to read it again though so it’s obviously not one of my favourite books. I didn’t hate it but I felt that I really wasn’t the target audience (being an adult and all).

    • ShereeKUWTP

      December 4, 2018 at 4:21 PM

      I feel that quite often with really popular YA books (not all of them, obviously, but many). It really makes me check myself when I write less than stellar reviews; I’ve got that voice in the back of my head saying “wait, what if you just don’t GET it because you’re not the intended reader?”.

  3. Ha! Those Amazon reviews get me every time!

    And that story about him autographing the preorders with different coloured markers?? Forget about it. This guy is next level. THAT is how you sell books.

    But yeah, I have had zero interest in this book and even less after the movie came out. Glad to hear I’m not really missing much.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      December 5, 2018 at 9:48 AM

      Oh yeah, I had to verify that story with the signing three different ways before I could believe it! Glad I could help you save your time and eyeballs for something more up your alley 😉

  4. I loved this novel. And I loved the movie. So MUCH!!

  5. Haven’t read it but loved the film, looks like I wont be reading it now then

    • ShereeKUWTP

      December 6, 2018 at 10:23 AM

      I really don’t think there’s anything you’d get out of the book that wasn’t already covered in the film, Phil, so I think you’re spot on 😉👍🏼

  6. I liked this book fine? It made me cry, which presumably was its intention, and I think John Green is funny. But his books don’t do anything special for me. I’m not super sure why he is so mega-famous compared with other YA authors.

    • ShereeKUWTP

      December 6, 2018 at 12:24 PM

      I think he’s done a really good job using new media; he had a huge built-in audience through YouTube before he started writing YA. As always, good marketing does a lot more to determine who becomes a household name than the quality of the work 😉

  7. If the doctor treating me in my nursing home once loved this book, I’d sure as shit like to have something to say about it, in the hopes that it’d make them like me enough to keep me alive a little longer. DYING with laughter over that one!!!!!!!
    But seriously… despite the hype, I probably won’t read the book. I saw the movie and thought it was good but not as great as the hype made it out to be. And I suspect I’ll feel the same about the book. But at least when I’m in the home I too can chat with the young inspired doc! Hahahaha

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