I just finished reading John Green’s book, The Fault in Our Stars. It’s written for a younger audience, and its moment was probably about seven years ago. But I was having a hard time finding something interesting on Overdrive or Hoopla (digital library services). And we already had a copy of this book on our Kindle account. (I think one of my kids had to read it for school, like a summer reading assignment or something). So I decided to give it a try on our recent anniversary trip. The fact that I’m already finished with the book — less than a week after starting it — shows that it was compelling enough to keep me reading.
I’d already come to appreciate John Green’s authorial voice through his podcast, The Anthropocene Reviewed. (Honestly, even after reading this book, I still like his podcasting better than his writing). Anyway, it didn’t really surprise me that his approach to the main protagonists was clever and well-executed. The plot of the story didn’t really surprise me either. That’s because I got some leaks and peeks through popular culture and conversations with others in my family who had already read the book. Even without the element of surprise, though, I found the book enjoyable.
The story centers around two teenagers who meet each other in a cancer support group. Their sickness adds an extra elements of gravitas to their relationship; still, they have a fun relationship. It’s interesting to watch the way that the characters grapple with their mortality. I appreciated the way that their mortality influences their choices for love and community.
The climax of the narrative happens to take place in Amsterdam, which was a fun, nostalgic element of the reading experience for me. I think Green did a good job explaining the setting. Especially his description of the falling elm petals and the canal-side dining experience. But I personally didn’t find his Dutch characters — or their dialogue distinctions — very convincing. And even though I understood the literary reasons for having a key scene take place in the Anne Frank house, I felt a little bit disappointed that such a tourist fixture became such a literary fixture of this book. But I’m probably hyper-critical because of my own relationship to the city of Amsterdam.
I’m glad I read this book. It was fun. A nice little summer vacation read. But it’s probably not going to make my Top Ten list for the year.