*Warning: this post contains minor spoilers*
John Green’s young adult novel, The Fault in Our Stars has been making a splash ever since its release in 2012 and the movie adaptation of the story is scheduled to come out this June. The book is about Hazel, a sixteen year old girl diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and her relationship with the charming, seventeen year old boy Augustus Waters, who lost one of his legs to cancer. This story revolves around their relationship, and the struggles that come with their illnesses.
Both of these characters are incredibly witty, intelligent, and self-assured. I don’t know about you, but the majority of teens I know do not encompass even one of these qualities, much less all three, which made their interactions quite unrealistic. While both main characters are overall likeable, there are many moments when they say things that are too pretentious for my taste. Neither one seems to deal with the standard nerves and awkwardness that accompanies romantic relationships, especially first relationships. To me, a big part of feminism is portraying girls, noticeably in relationships, as realistic human beings, and Hazel and Augustus’ smooth, effortless banter and their ability to speak freely about their emotions doesn’t strike me as a very accurate portrayal of young love.
That being said, I do like many of the characteristics that Hazel embodies; she is very intelligent and well-read, she isn’t afraid of being genuine, and she definitely is not intimidated by this “very attractive” boy that she meets. I appreciate having her as our protagonist, I enjoy that she is funny and forward. I think these are all qualities that ought to be encouraged in the plethora of young women reading this novel.
Another obvious concept that should be addressed about this story is the fact that Hazel’s parents fulfill pretty traditional gender roles, her father being the hard-working, employed man, and her mother being the nurturing, over-protective caretaker. Her mom gives up a job and essentially any sort of life outside of Hazel in order to take care of her full time. This could be viewed as a stereotypical fulfillment of the women’s role and seen as a thumbs down for feminism, but then again I don’t really think it’s necessary for all situations to break traditional gender roles at all times. We see that Hazel’s mother works extremely hard at constantly helping her, and she plays a very crucial role in Hazel’s life. I also have to respect Green’s rights as an author, and his literary freedom to shape characters as he chooses. In his mind, Hazel’s mother fit this role better than her father and if that is how he wanted the story to play out, who are we, the readers, to tell him differently? He is also tackling a lot of other issues without also dealing with breaking traditional gender roles in every way possible here. It is also revealed late in the novel that Hazel’s mother is taking classes to get her Master’s degree, so yay for her ambition and goal to achieve higher education! Another important fact to note is that Hazel’s father is described as crying very frequently, and not being able to contain his emotions, which I consider to be a refreshing break from the stoic, somber men we often find in the father position.
As interersectionality goes, Green’s novel is lacking in some ways. First of all, all the characters, as far as I can tell, are all white, upper middle class people. Everyone with an illness is able to afford their treatments for the most part (although there is a small mention about the financial strain the enormous cost puts on families), and with healthcare being such a prominent issue in our country today, it probably should have been discussed further. The character of Isaac, who becomes blind due to surgery to remove his cancer, provides a representation of someone dealing with a newfound disability that changes ones entire life. Augustus also has to deal with his disability every day in a variety of ways that people do not always realize, from struggling with driving a car to insecurities in regards to intimacy. This group of characters consists of people who each have their own obstacles because of their physical limitations and they provide a perspective not typically seen in today’s popular culture.
Overall, I would say The Fault in Our Stars is a worthwhile read, and I’ll be interested to see if the (MANY) fans approve of the movie adaptation this summer. Let us know your take on the novel in the comments below!