I read The Fault in Our Stars with no clear idea of what it was about, because several people whose judgment I trusted said I really ought to. If I had known what it was about, I doubt I would’ve read it, because the bones of the plot sound maudlin, heavy-handed, and more than a little trite. It’s just been made into a movie, and I’m finding it hard to see how the singular presence and voice of Hazel Grace — which is most of what lifts this novel far above the maudlin, heavy-handed and trite — could possibly be translated to film without losing everything that makes the book so very good. But yeah, it’s about teens with cancer, and an improbable collision with a dissolute writer, and it defies every preconception those facts could give you. I’m very glad my prejudices didn’t keep me from reading it.
It’s also set some tongues to wagging about the merits of “Young Adult” as a marketing category (or, God help us, as a “genre”) and what gets tarred with the “romance” brush and what doesn’t, and the disparate treatment of/respect for male vs. female authors. My thunk, for what it’s worth, is that YA is a fine way to identify books with youthful protagonists, so that anyone with a particular inclination for or desire to avoid young protagonists has a way to do so. The rest of us can just read the books we want to, on bases like whether they sound interesting or maybe have something to teach us. Differing respect for male vs. female authors I find abominable, but I’m not nearly as tetchy about the notion that ambition to something beyond escapism has some intrinsic worth, when considering books that “succeed” equally well on their own terms. So to my mind The Fault in Our Stars is YA only in some strict technical (and possibly useless) sense. It has serious thematic heft, a (deceptively) complex narrative structure and incidentally its vocabulary sent me scrambling for a dictionary a time or two, which, no false modesty, does not happen often.