[Book Review] The Fault In Our Stars

1280x720_The Fault In Our Stars - John Green

I have finished reading this book more than a month ago and only now have I gathered the courage I needed to write this review. Without spoilers, here’s why.

The Fault In Our Stars (John Green, 2012, Penguin, 336 pages) tells the story of a couple of teenagers, Hazel and Augustus, and their friendship, which begins after they meet at a support group for children with cancer. From there on, to use an expression that appears in the book, everything is “a roller coaster that only goes up”.

This is not your typical sad book. Yes, it’s sad – don’t go anywhere near it if you don’t want to cry. But what sets it apart from others is that this isn’t a story about disease, it’s a story about love. It’s very easy to gather a legion of fans by writing about a couple which is cute and does cute things together and has their lives dramatically changed and cries endlessly and will always love each other (I feel sick simply by writing this generic description). But what did they feel? What did they think? What did they question, what did they learn, where did they start and who did they become?

John Green answers those questions and manages to treat death as it is: natural. Painful, yes, but natural. Both Hazel and Augustus know – and it is clear to us, from what is written, that adults do not understand them – how much it hurts to see decades of future, a future that had been promised to you from the day you were born, maybe being taken from you. Stolen, even, by this disease without an easy cure. The pain is so great that depression goes unnoticed.

And that is where Green excels every expectation and delivers a work of art. His reading of human nature and his ability to empathize are only comparable, from what I’ve read, to Nick Hornby’s. There are no writing skills – though his are remarkable – capable of surpassing lack of content, which implicates that a great part of the perfection that is this book is attributable to the author’s delicate perception of his object of study, people.

These people who are, in fact, the best part of the book. From Hazel’s religious obsession for a fictional book to Augustus and his videogame character suicides, every tiny thing is there on purpose; every detail adds up to creating complete, thorough personalities. Emotions aren’t there for the creation of climaxes or making readers cry: they are there because this is what real people, flesh-and-boned creatures, feel. And what are characters but depictions of us?

And the writing, oh, the writing. The pace is perfect, the phrasing is perfect, the choice of words is perfect. John’s latest is quite possibly his best, simply because it takes his skills to a whole new level. There are so many metaphors and symbols all over this – the book author, the videogames, the cigarettes, the endless saga of fictional war stories, the use of the words “Augustus” and “Gus” – I would dare say this will become a classic. Much like Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Green manages to make a book that is not only delicious at first, but discoverable at each read, a book other books should be written about and accessible to all audiences, who will the touched by the metaphors even if they aren’t clear at first. I have always felt that the smallest details could sometimes do a better job at telling a story than a hundred pages might. I’m not the biggest crier when it comes to books, but this remarkable author, with his words well chosen and feelings well exposed, made me randomly sob because of beautiful sentences lost between chapters, as diamonds to be found in a sea of pearls.

To use a line from the book, “my thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations”; I would be able to go on about this forever and would still never do it justice.  The main reason, now that I think of it, is probably that, like love, everything that changes our hearts is partially unexplainable and surpasses all boundaries to become a personal experience. This book, as all good books, feels like more than reading. It is pure living.

[Book Review] Looking For Alaska

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I believe I have fallen in love with John Green.

Yes, I am quite aware – as Inkheart, a perfect book filled with metalanguage, taught me – that authors aren’t their characters and that we tend to fantasize about them, even though they are real, flesh-and-bone creatures just as you and me. And yet I can’t help bonding with them, feeling like I know them a little, thinking of them as friends and, when one of them writes something this precious, giving them a place on my heart.

I can’t imagine how anyone might possibly dislike Looking For Alaska (John Green, paperback by Penguin USA, 221 pages), the brilliant tale of how Pudge meets the Colonel, Alaska and Takumi, characters as special as their names would suggest. It follows my favorite topic for storytelling: people, simply people. A story set in high school, this is much, much more than your typical teenage book: the plot is so rich and the characters, so complete, that the reader is just as crushed by the events in it as the ones living the story themselves.

After a “Before” (the first half of the book, named that way by the author himself) that will make you fall in love with every single character, the “After” (don’t worry, I won’t ever intentionally give spoilers on this blog, I promise) is the cherry on top of the cake for Looking For Alaska. Unexpected, strong and well thought of, I hadn’t read such a good plot twist in a while; the simple idea of dividing the book in two parts is brilliant itself, for it divides not only the story per se, but also the tone in which it is told and the behavior of the characters around what happened.

If the story is already good by itself, John’s writing must also be praised. He understands the world he is describing well enough to create successful, credible dialogues, much superior to so many authors who only seem to reproduce a mirage of this generation. Every character has many nuances and, by the time you think you have gotten to know them, John slaps you on your face with the perfect white glove of short, simple, shocking lines. No flourishes, no unnecessary adjectives, no pretentious glamour, and yet worthy of study and reflection, filled with symbols (the cigarettes being my favorite), with color and warmth, with Alaska’s poetry and Pudge’s biographies, with every element that makes a classic. A classic just as I dare say this book will one day be considered.

Personally, I must say that this story seems to have shaken my heart and put it back on its place with a more desperate, more active pumping; one of my favorite things about reading is how words – simple, tiny, ink-on-paper words – can affect the reader in ways the author never expected. There was a passage in Looking For Alaska, after the, well, “After”, that made me close my eyes, take a deep breath and repeat the line again and again and again in my head: “We are all going”. If I had the opportunity to hug Mr. Green, I would do it, not only for being a brilliant nerdfighter, but for writing lines that broke my heart, which is just what you need of your literary friends every once in while. To break your heart so it can be fixed.

Pudge, a skinny boy who loves famous people’s last words, wouldn’t be disappointed to see this book as part of his biography. Perfect in its simplicity, it is as beautiful a daisy as Alaska’s favorite flowers and a great propeller of readers into the Great Perhaps.