There’s a moment in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar when the Roman nobleman, Cassius, says to another nobleman, Brutus, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” The context of Cassius’ statement is that his and Brutus’ unjust destinies are not the result of anything supernatural (something “in the stars”), but of their own poor choices.
This is a statement that has held its place in culture, but author John Green’s latest book seeks to dismantle this philosophy.
Green himself, in response to a reader’s question, writes,
“. . . that’s ridiculous. There is plenty of fault in our stars. Many people suffer needlessly not because they’ve done something wrong or because they’re evil or whatever but because they get unlucky. I wanted to try to write a novel about how we navigate a world that isn’t fair, and whether it’s possible to have a full and meaningful life even if you don’t get to play out your life on a grand stage the way Cassius and Brutus did” (The Fault in Our Stars: Collector’s Edition, 4).
The Fault in Our Stars is a book starring Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 16 year old cancer survivor whose physical life has been left in shambles from her battle. Her lungs, as Hazel herself describes, “suck” and she is subjected to toting oxygen around wherever she goes. To say that she lives an abnormal teenage life would be a grand understatement.
The novel takes off when Hazel attends a support group and meets another cancer survivor named Augustus Waters, a quick-witted, humorously-cynical 17 year old boy who quickly falls in love with her. The two embark on a philosophical journey together as they share their deepest emotions concerning the unjust landscape of their lives.
Augustus Waters is arguably one of the most lovable characters in modern day fiction. I recently told my wife that “I wish he were real, because I would love to know him.” He is the rare personality that brightens up life because he sees it from a unique angle. Some of the more humorous portions of the novel exist when Augustus sacrifices his video game avatar to save nonexistent, pixelated innocents. In so doing, his character naturally dies and he himself loses the game. But this is how Augustus plays the game, because it’s how Augustus plays life. He is obsessed with the concept of dying an honorable, meaningful death, and has a difficult time reconciling how that is possible when one dies of cancer.
It is Augustus that helps bring life to the dying protagonist, Hazel Grace. The friendship and relationship they foster is certainly a positive element to the story and although they both live on the diving board of death, together they are capable of standing firm on that slippery, flimsy board.
Much of The Fault in Our Stars is spiritual. A quick Google search will reveal that John Green considers himself a Christian, although he allegedly doesn’t like boxing himself in with this title. The support group takes place in a church, God is often alluded to, and Bible verses even appear here and there, albeit out of context.
To say that the book paints an accurate picture of biblical Christianity, however, would be far-fetched. In fact, I would go as far as to say that God is often recreated and mocked. Augustus and Hazel would be what I consider nominal Christians. They seem to understand the basic concepts, like most Americans would, but they certainly don’t live by godly standards. It is assumed that everyone goes to heaven and that those that die of cancer might even have a special place there, although, to be fair, the protagonists seem to deny this claim.
The novel’s title, in and of itself, suggests that there is fault with God’s sovereignty in creation, and that mankind isn’t responsible, or at least as responsible, as Shakespeare’s Cassius alleged. Spiritually speaking, this is simply not the case. The fault is not in God (“the stars”), but a result of the Fall of Genesis 3. This is arguably my largest contention with the novel. Green assumes that all people are good and that things like cancer are unfair additions to life. While I would agree that cancer, and other evils like it, are horrible and devastating occurrences, we cannot ignore that such things are the inevitable result of mankind’s decision to disobey God. Thus, Cassius was right. The fault is in ourselves.
There are other claims about God in the novel, one being a fictional father in a fictional novel that the fictional author, Peter Van Houten, claims represents God (which isn’t in good taste). But one of the more revealing aspects of Green’s spiritual claims might be in an answer he gives to a reader in the Collector’s Edition of his novel. Green writes that “books belong to their readers,” which, contextually speaking, was Green’s way of saying that readers have the freedom to interpret elements of the story to their own desires. If this is a block of Green’s foundation to his worldview, then it might explain how he interprets the Bible, which consequently affects much of what he believes it means to be a Christian, which affects his view of “the stars.”
There is essentially one major sexual episode when Augustus and Hazel engage in premarital sex during their trip to Amsterdam. There are other episodes of various characters, including Augustus and Hazel, kissing.
The book is inherently violent insofar as it is about kids with cancer, and Green pulls no punches in relating the facts about what a kid might go through when dealing with such a disease. In preparing for this book, Green spent time serving as a chaplain at a hospital with terminally ill children and wanted to convey the painful reality of death, not the graceful death often painted in other novels.
The novel includes various uses of “s–t” and “d–m.”
DRUG AND ALCOHOL CONTENT
No drug content, but the characters, underage, do partake of champagne. To my recollection there are no scenes where the characters get drunk. Augustus often has a cigarette in his mouth, but he never lights it. It is a metaphor that he is in control of his life and that this tool of death has no power over him.
OTHER NEGATIVE ELEMENTS
The most negative elements of this novel rest in the influence it will undoubtedly bring to its young readers. Because it is such an engaging read and because the characters are so lovable, I can see many students learning from much of the fictional elements involved, treating them as truth. There are false concepts of mathematics (specifically claims on the philosophical understanding of infinity) and medicine, as well as misguided claims of biblical Christianity. There are also logically fallible philosophical claims that have little, if any, warrant. Green opens the book in writing, “This book is a work of fiction. I made it up,” but this does little to clarify what is real and what is not real in its claims.
The Fault in Our Stars is a very enjoyable read. It’s hard to put down and it can be read quickly. I would not personally recommend it to any person younger than 16, and even with that (given my Christian faith), I would be cautious. It makes a variety of philosophical claims about life and can serve as a tool for philosophical discussions concerning gratuitous evils, which are conversations parents should have with their children. But it is my conviction that these conversations should be rooted and cultivated by Scripture, not fiction. Although, fiction is a fun way to add to the conversation after a firm foundation has been built in God’s Word.
I give the book 4 out of 5 stars.
Did you know that you can subscribe to receive my posts by email? In so doing, you will receive a free copy of my eBook on the Second Coming and also be entered into future drawings to receive my other books.