Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Book Review: The Fault in Our Stars

Jasmine and I first watched the movie The Fault in Our Stars. Then we listened to it on CD.

The basic story:

"Hazel and Augustus are two teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them on a journey. Their relationship is all the more miraculous, given that Hazel's other constant companion is an oxygen tank, Gus jokes about his prosthetic leg, and they meet and fall in love at a cancer support group.

Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 17-year-old with cancer, reluctantly visits a cancer support group at her mother's insistence. Her trusty portable oxygen tank goes with her. At the meeting she meets August Waters, a teen with one leg and a unique outlook on life. The two hit it off, and Hazel shares her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction with Augustus. He in turn gives her his favorite book to read--The Price of Dawn, a shoot 'em up book with a high body count.

Hazel shares that An Imperial Afflication is the only novel about cancer that describes her own life. She is frustrating that author, Peter Van Houten, ends the novel mid sentence denying the readers closure.

Since she used up the special wish granted to terminally ill children to visit Disney when she was 12, Augustus uses his wish to take himself  and Hazel to Amsterdam to meet the author of An Imperial Afflication. When the meeting is less than stellar, Augustus refuses to let Hazel think she wasted his trip.

Once home, things take a turn for the worse for Augustus whose cancer has returned. And we find out, as Augusts says, "Life in not a wish granting factory." 

There are a lot of differences between the movie and the book. One of the biggest ones is that in the movie, while you get to see what a miserable excuse for a human author Peter Van Houten is, in the book you find out that the main character in his book was named for his daughter who died of cancer when she was 8. The book was an attempt reconcile himself with her death.

The book gives more backstory and insight to the main characters' motivations and thoughts, but it also has much more crude language and swearing than the movie.

Because they say it better than I do, I am including some of Plugged In Online's review. It's long, but it's worth reading. You can read the whole thing HERE


Death hangs over The Fault in Our Stars like the stars themselves, permeating every character and every interaction. And yet in the midst of mortality we see at least a sliver of something alive. Even in pain, hope can be found, we're told. Even in disappointment, meaning comes.
Loving someone, truly, through severe sickness, isn't easy. We see others fail under the pressure. But no matter what circumstances bring, Gus and Hazel care for each other throughout, often giving something of themselves in the process.
They're both heroic characters in their own ways, facing disease and circumstance with as much grace and courage as they can muster. Hazel's last few years have been something of a living sacrifice as she tries to cushion the blow of the inevitable pain that's coming for her parents. Gus wants to live a life of meaning—one filled with adventure and importance, so that when he does go, he's known and loved by millions.
There's a little merit in both of those strategies. But when Gus and Hazel get together, they get a better sense of what the beauty of life is really about. Hazel moves beyond responsibility and finds joy in her difficult life. And when she learns that, should she die, her parents won't die with her, that they're making plans for a life without her, she treats it as the best of gifts: the idea that she won't necessarily destroy everyone around her. And Gus, through Hazel, comes to understand that it's not so critical to be loved by throngs, as long as you've loved by and have changed the lives of a few. Or even just one.
Hazel finds solace while visiting the house of Anne Frank, the diary-writing Jewish girl killed in the Nazi Holocaust. "Where there is hope, there is life," we hear Anne's words playing in the background. "Think of all the beauty in everything around you. And be happy."
Unlike most teenage love stories, parents come across pretty well here. While Hazel and her folks have their moments of tension, there's no question about how much they love one another.


Hazel's support group takes place in the basement of an Episcopal church and is led by a cancer survivor who's a fervent—and, in Hazel's eyes, goofy—Christian. He sings a song that includes the words, "Christ is your friend and He'll be there to the end." And he rolls out a carpet depicting the Savior, telling participants standing on it that they're "literally in the heart of Jesus." As the story proceeds, then, the idea of literally being in the heart of Jesus, when they're literally in a church basement, is sometimes mocked.
Christianity is treated more reverentially during a funeral, wherein a priest reads Psalm 23 and people say a prayer. (Still, a much-loathed antagonist crashes the funeral and lets loose a quip about having to "fake pray.")
Both Hazel and Gus think a lot about what might come after death. Gus fears oblivion in this life while hanging on to a belief in at least some sort of afterlife, saying he wants to crash his own funeral as a ghost. Hazel's more cynical, telling Gus she doesn't believe in angels but she may believe in God, and while she'd like to believe in an afterlife she'd need more proof first. Someone suggests that her life has no meaning and her disease is a "failed experiment in mutation."


Eighteen-year-old Gus and 17-year-old Hazel are attracted to each other from the beginning. And while Hazel tries to keep him at arm's length for a while, their platonic relationship goes kablooey in Amsterdam. The two share a tender kiss in Anne Frank's house. Then they tumble into Gus' hotel room and have sex.
The scene shows Hazel and Gus taking off each other's shirts, and she undoes her bra. (We see her from the back.) They caress and kiss as they give in to their passion. Afterwards, both are seen mostly naked, with the sheet covering only the most critical body parts. And it's worth noting that much is made of Gus' previously virginal "condition" ... and that this union is seen as the perfect end to it. The couple cuddles and kisses elsewhere.
Gus' friend Isaac makes out with his girlfriend in a parking lot, and we see him kneading her (clothed) breast. Later, Isaac, who has lost both eyes to cancer, comments on the size of another girl's breasts. "I'm blind, but I'm not that blind," he says.


One very forceful f-word is used as a sexually derived insult. Also, a half-dozen s-words and a smattering of other bad words, including "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "b‑‑tard" and "h‑‑‑." God's name is used as an expletive about 30 times, twice paired with "d‑‑n."


"Apparently, the world is not a wish-granting factory," Gus says sadly.
It's a truth we all know. Even we Christians, whom the movie portrays as fairly naive, see that all too well. We wish it was. We want our happily ever after endings. But we know that happiness on earth is fickle and fleeting.
In The Fault in Our Stars (based on John Green's best-selling young adult novel) we find, indeed, that the stars haven't been especially kind to these two lovers. They don't have the time we'd wish for them—time to get jobs and have kids, to grow up and grow old. They've been given a finite number of days together—and even those days are filled with the looming problems and anxiety that cancer inevitably brings. And whenever it seems like something wonderful might finally happen, it goes awry. Each star they cling to, including each other, has a fault inside—a scratch, a split.
But even given such faulty stars, the two find joy and fulfillment. They have each other. They're loved. They live. Yes, maybe their days are built on borrowed time, but it's better than no time, and Hazel confesses that she's "grateful for our little infinity."
"You don't get to choose if you get hurt in this world," Hazel says. "but you do get to choose who hurts you." That's a strangely powerful statement, I think.
Sadly, one fault Hazel and Gus share is that they don't always make the wisest of choices. They sleep together. And they prefer to see themselves as pawns of the stars, not beloved by those stars' Creator.
This isn't an anti-Christian film, exactly—just spiritually uncertain. Nor is it saturated in sex or depravity. This isn't a bad movie, really. In many ways, it's quite good.
But here's the thing: Because it is quite good—a persuasive, emotional story with strong, positive messages about sacrifice, hard truths and true love—the bad stuff can come off as more persuasive than usual. It's harder to see a loving God yourself when the characters you grow to care about can't, or won't. It's harder to object to premarital sex while weepily watching Hazel and Gus—teens who might never get the chance to ever have sex again—get so much pleasure and fulfillment from it.
The Fault in Our Stars is, I suppose, a little like its title. For all its sparkly power, it has scratches and splits. We know immediately when a movie like Noah drifts away from its moorings. But it's hard to see a film with crystal-clear eyes when you're always dabbing them with a Kleenex.

My final thoughts are these: It's a good story which I would have enjoyed a lot more if there had been less crude and profane language. If there is one thing John Green excels at in his books it is telling a true to life story with an abundance of insight and crude language. I think it would have been more powerful if it had a stronger spiritual emphasis--hope of heaven. But it is not a Christian book. 

I would proceed with caution when reading the book or watching the movie. I wouldn't recommend it for anyway under 13 or 14 years old.

My challenge to myself and other Christian authors is to write books that are equally insightful and engaging, but which also provide spiritual guidance and insights. We need more books that weave in faith elements without cramming it down the reader's throats. A book should have an engaging story, not a thinly disguised sermon. It should offer hope to the reader and send them on a God search. Let's build up the CBA market with books that are as widely read as The Fault in Our Stars and the others I've reviewed on this blog.
Be genuine
Be real
Be connected
Write your best story

These are my thoughts. Feel free to add yours in the comment section.
Some of the fun of The Fault in Our Stars was Gus and Hazel's quotes. Who can forget:

Favorite quotes HERE

Read my other reviews
All the Bright Places
13 Reasons Why
The Hunger Games (Bryan Davis)


  1. Maybe "okay" will be our "always."
    I liked the movie but probably not as much as my friends. I wasn't really in to all of it.

  2. This is what I tried to do with my YA novel Angelhood--tackle the tough topic of teen suicide but offering what a lot of CBA books don't . . . hope. At the same time, I didn't want to sugarcoat things. It's a fine line to walk. I hope I came close to succeeding.

    1. I've noticed that death and suicide are big issues now. First two teen books I read this year were 13 Reasons Why and All the Bright Places. Two very different approaches to the same topic.

    2. I haven't read All the Bright Places yet. I'll have to check that one out!

  3. An insightful post. I haven't read the book but have seen the movie, which I enjoyed for the most part. Less profanity in entertainment is always better for me. I read 13 Reasons Why and didn't care much for it. I will read your review of it after commenting here. All the Bright Places is on my to-read list, not that I'm obsessed with stories about suicide but rather want to read the most popular YA novels each year. It just happens that I've written one containing a suicide (8 Notes to a Nobody) because of one particular real-life occurrence that continues to haunt me--the suicide of a friend of my daughter's. A.J. Cattapan's Angelhood is very good.

    1. What else have you read that you'd recommend in the most popular YA novels?

    2. By my recollection, these are clean, entertaining, and perhaps subtly Christian books I've read within the past year even if written a few years ago: Also Known As by Robin Benway, Better Off Friends by Elizabeth Eulberg, Summer Sanctuary by Laurie Gray, Where I Belong by Gwendoyn Heasely. In speculative/dystopian: Of the Persecuted by Angie Brashear, Vanquished by Katie Clark, The First Principle by Marissa Shrock. Enjoy!

    3. Oops, I forgot two other good ones, particularly for boys: Roland West, Loner by Theresa Linden and Run by Glenn Haggerty. Probably more religious references but very good for any teen.

    4. Thanks for the shout out, Cynthia!

      I've had the pleasure of reading both of her books, and I think one of the things that sets them apart from some other Christian YA books is that the faith elements are woven in naturally. They aren't super-imposed or even front and center.

      I can't speak for Cynthia and her books, but for me, I didn't even plan on writing a book with faith elements. In fact, I didn't even know there WAS such a thing as Christian fiction until after I'd written my first draft and wondered if there was any place that would publish a book that involved angels. ha!

      I just had a story idea, and because my faith is an important part of my life, it simply transferred into my story.

      I think if Christian YA authors are going to "cross over" and become popular outside of the Christian market, then they have to simply concentrate on writing good stories first and trust that their faith will shape the story in the end, even if it's not blatantly on the page.

  4. I completely agree with your challenge to Christian authors, Kathy! Let's write faith-based books that are so good they get recommended to everyone, beyond just CBA readers. And when we read a faith-based book that achieves that level of excellence, we need to promote it!

    1. Laurie, the first edition of my book 8 Notes to a Nobody, although Christian (and with Catholic elements) won a 2014 Moonbeam Children's Book Award under the title Bird Face. A.J. Cattapan's Angelhood (also with Catholic elements) won a Moonbeam in 2015, so YA Christian books are finally getting the mainstream attention they deserve. I see it more and more. We will keep writing stories that have the ability to cross over!

    2. We need to review the books we like. I think reviews help sell books. I'm also trying to do author interviews on blog. But I don't have a very big readership yet.

    3. Yes, reviews are so important. Thanks for mentioning that, Kathy. When someone reads and likes a book, a short review of one or two sentences on Amazon, B&N, Books-a-Million, or Goodreads means the world to an author and reaches thousands, perhaps millions of potential readers. Authors of good clean books see that their efforts mean something, they can make sales, which allows them to continue their work.

    4. I forgot to check back for replies so I just saw these. Congratulations to Cynthia and A.J. on your awards, that's awesome! My WIP has Catholic elements, too :) I've just started writing reviews for books I read, and I'm hoping to make that a habit going forward.

    5. Best wishes for success with your book, Laurie! Like Amy, I did not start out thinking I was going to write a Christian or Catholic book, but my main character's background lent itself to including elements of her faith.

  5. I'd also like to comment on the fact that parents come across well in The Fault in Our Stars. It's refreshing to see that occasionally when most YA novels focus on the teens and their troubles, which often include bad parents. One of the most cherished comments I received regarding my second book, 10 Steps to Girlfriend Status, was that the reader enjoyed the positive inter-generational relationships, which she seldom saw in YA.

  6. I like the movie better than the book.

  7. I like the movie better than the book.

    1. I suspect that would be the case with me too, Jasmine.