I was one of those teens that read YA Lit, probably from around age eleven to fifteen. I read some “adult” novels like Stephen King in middle school, but I had friends who just skipped the YA section altogether. I didn’t, even though I barely remember anything I read at that time. I was passing out of the YA Lit world just before the YA Revolution hit. I have a special bookshelf tucked away for my favorite books when I was younger, but for now the two favorites that come to mind are Julie Ann Peters’ Define “Normal” and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak. One day I’d like to post about these. But today is not that day.
I’m not connected to the world of Young Adult Literature. I’m just not. I devoured the first four Harry Potter books repeatedly and then my re-reads diminished substantially with each passing volume. When a new one was published, I would excitedly revisit the novels, read the new installment, and then stuff my Harry Potter Fan hat under the bed until the next book. I cried at the character bloodbath at the end of the seventh volume, but after a couple days I more or less forgot about Harry Potter. I came home from college one break and my friends were all obsessed with Twilight and I was like, “Why? These look awful.” I saw The Hunger Games in theaters and decided that was good enough. Even though the book is supposedly better, I felt no desire to read the novel.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is like the toast of the YA town—and my book club’s pick this month, or else I had plans to avoid it completely. Given the public’s recent obsession with YA Lit, John Green is kind of a larger literary deal. Since Harry Potter and Twilight, novels aimed at teens are the exciting things happening in the literary world. I actually tried to read Twilight for this blog when I first started out (sorry, not digging up the posts for a link right now), but it offended me on almost every level I have in addition to being as dull as watching glitter nail polish dry. I agree that John Green’s novel is much more my speed than Twilight, thought there are problems with him being hailed as the savior of all Young Adult Literature.
The Fault in Our Stars is the story of Hazel and Augustus, two star-crossed teenage lovers. The source of their star-crossing? They are both cancer survivors to some degree—Augustus is in remission and Hazel’s extant tumors are managed with medication. But this story isn’t your typical tearjerker: Hazel and Augustus have keen intellects with healthy helpings of cynicism and wrestle with big questions.
I feel weird admitting this because John Green has an enormous following, but I found The Fault in Our Stars pretty good. I didn’t love it. Unlike American Beauty, Good Will Hunting, and all of Gillian Flynn’s novels, I’m not completely baffled by the hype surrounding this novel, my emotional connection just wasn’t very strong. Maybe that makes me like a monster, but a lot of literature really does give me strong feelings, so I can’t say much other than it’s a case of personal opinion.
This novel is frank and courageous and honest and sometimes lovely—but if I’m going to be frank and courageous and honest, I have to admit I also found it sometimes unrealistic and overwrought. Even as someone who went through a stage where I found metaphorical resonance in my daily life (a side effect of attending a liberal arts college), reading characters in books who do the same made me roll my eyes pretty frequently. Also, for fuck’s sake with the use of caps lock in dialogue, John Green.
I cried, of course. About a quarter of the book really resonated with me on a deep level, but the majority of it I just thought was pretty good (and some of it very uneven). A lot of John Green’s characters felt like teen characters written by an adult to me, and sometimes that adult strayed into the territory of pretension. That being said, there are worse things than a bestselling YA novelist introducing his readership to big ideas and enriching their vocabulary. (Then again, Bella and Edward are both mad for Austen and the Brontës…yeesh.)
I liked this novel as an example of genres I don’t normally read: contemporary and Young Adult. Still, though, I couldn’t help but make periodic comparisons to Speak. Sometimes John Green’s characters seemed real and then they’d collapse back into two dimensions when their ponderances about the universe seemed to come from the mouths of someone who’d taken an Intro to Philosophy course. When I read Speak, on the other hand the main character’s narration might as well have stood in for my own. Melinda and I didn’t have the exact same experiences, but I related to her and her voice unendingly. She never got away from me the way Hazel and Augustus did. Is that John Green or is that old age? I’m not sure.
Now, I was a moody teenager. I raged. I was kind of scary and sometimes when I run into adults who knew me then, I’m kind of embarrassed. I couldn’t manage my own emotions very well. (Sometimes I still can’t, but now I have my own apartment and don’t have to play it out on the goddamn high school stage so not that many people know.) One time during a particular episode of emotional turmoil, one of my teachers said something like, “This really isn’t a big deal” or a “This is just high school” kind of thing. That’s kind of a shitty thing to say to someone who is in high school because at that point high school is probably their whole world.
From where I’m sitting now, though, not even that far away from high school and still riding the emotional rollercoaster with great frequency, I really can’t connect to those feelings anymore. And that, I think, is why I don’t read YA. I have a huge respect for authors that can pull it off, but I think it’s time to say it’s just not my genre.