First, if a person has a blog with two million acolytes, it does not require the skill of Truman Capote or Ayn Rand to sell a lot of books. I’m not being facetious when I say that Mr. Green could write a book titled “Let’s All Step in Dog Poop and Show It to Mom” and it would sell a million copies. Mr. Green and his brother have clearly done what Oprah has accomplished in creating markets. These men are geniuses at working the blogosphere, and that has to be taken into consideration when attempting to understand how THE FAULT IN OUR STARS sold several million copies, and it’s still going. However, it’s impossible to ignore what Hazel and Gus bring to the literary table–and it’s a lot.
High on the list is enormous dignity. Sure, some or even a great deal of it was self-serving to the storyline–and I’m writing this not to give away so much that no one will want to read the book. Yet it was impossible not to feel good about Hazel and Gus and Isaac, as none of them let their handicaps overwhelm their needs for the things every normal, healthy person cares about. Anyone lucky enough not to have a permanent infirmity has to feel something for these characters. Likewise, but from an even more profound sense, I have to believe that many handicapped people found the protagonists in this story inspiring. Maybe a bit fakey at times, as again I have to think that the commercial viability of the story couldn’t be far from the writer’s mind; yet, to the author’s credit he didn’t turn THE FAULT IN OUR STARS into LOVE STORY even though the ending was indeed bittersweet and equally predictable.
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is hardly without its technical faults (no pun intended). The prose is often glaringly weak, and Mr. Green loved to patronize his readers by placing all sorts of “obvious” material in parentheses, taking the annoyance factor through the roof at times. And anyone who’s ever reviewed the book honestly has discussed the ridiculously stilted dialogue. Instead of talking like 17-year-olds, Hazel and Gus conversed throughout the narrative as doctoral students rehearsing material for their dissertations. But, if we look beyond this–and it might be the beauty of the entire story–Mr. Green perhaps wrote the dialogue exchanges as he did to demonstrate that a physical handicap is not the same as a mental deficiency. And as I thought about this further, the idea gained more credence, since it’s easy to categorize a person “all in one basket,” even though not many folks will admit to this. I’ve been guilty, especially when I was a kid, and later when I got to know the person I was ashamed. Perhaps bigger-than-life geniuses like Stephen Hawking will help to correct societal ignorance (okay, stupidity) regarding the zero correlation between a physical and a mental handicap.
So, here’s a story that depicts pride and strength and love and all the elements that generate respect. Yet these characters didn’t just have a toothache that would eventually go away. They all had horribly debilitating conditions that they chose to “work around” rather than mope around. I realize it’s not as simple as this, but Mr. Green handled this very subtly, and while he’s no Jack London in the realm of crafting prose, he handled the plot delivery brilliantly. He positioned these characters in a way that didn’t have the reader feeling sorry for them but instead wanting to root for them as people and not invalids. I found it impossible not to like Hazel and Gus and Isaac, as I wanted them to enjoy life. And John Green showed that even kids with disabilities understand the consequences of unprotected sex and that first “encounters” aren’t always of the closest kind. Love is not easy for any kid who cares. And these kids definitely cared, which is another reason their characters resonated with readers. Again, I have to think that handicapped kids respected them, and just like nonphysically impaired youths, lived vicariously through Hazel and Gus’s successes.
I also thought that John Green did a remarkable job in bringing the curmudgeonly Peter into the fold. He was a puzzle to me for most of the narrative, and then I realized his metaphorical relationship to the narrative, in that good things don’t always happen in real life to people who deserve breaks along the way. Peter was “real life,” and this is all I’m going to say so I don’t ruin the story. John Green gets five stars for this character, as it was extremely clever to introduce him and then couch his actions as he did throughout the story. I wonder if this was the author’s intention from the outset or if Peter just developed along with the narrative. Regardless, his character added immeasurably to the fabric of the story.
I hope I’ve offered a reasonable opinion as to why THE FAULT IN OUR STARS was such a success. It certainly transcends a book aimed at the handicapped, as I don’t think that’s at all true, and I frankly find that offensive. However, I can see, as I said earlier, that people with permanent disabilities might find the characters inspiring. I have no way of knowing for certain, but I’d like to think this is true.