I first read John Green’s mesmerizing, beloved novel THE FAULT IN OUR STARS three years ago: I read it in a single three hour sitting, laughed harder than I have ever laughed at a novel, and felt the most intense “feely feels” towards the ends since the first time I read ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE. But how would it hold up, three years later, upon rereading?
Part of one’s journey as a reader is crossing the threshold into rereading old books you once loved. Maybe it’s the occasional disappointment with new novels, or classics that don’t hold up their weighty reputations, but sometimes you want to pick up an old book and be totally sure you’re going to enjoy it. So, this time around, I picked up my paperback copy of TFIOS (as it’s known among die-hard Greenies (count me in)) and I’m pleased to say: it was even better.
In my crusty old critical middle-age, I’ve become exceedingly impatient with narratives that show their cracks, little moments of writerly fatigue in between key story points, and page after page in TFIOS I kept thinking: How does he do this? Every character, every nuance of plot and emotion and development, it happens so seamlessly, so tightly woven and pulled from start to finish, there are no gaps and no moments of hesitation where you could feel Green pausing to consider his next move. The novel feels borne, wrested from him, birthed in a white heat of a few days’ compulsion. I like to think of it that way, without looking up any of his notes about the process of writing it. I like to imagine the story of Hazel and Gus demanding to live on the page.
I still laughed out loud (“waiting for the Sword of Damocles or whatever. . .”), although I laughed harder and more frequently the first time around. I found myself missing the humor in the film adaptation, too. The humor carries so much weight of this book, and without it some readers may find the subject matter overwhelming and give into its despair.
And yet within its sadness, the story of two star-crossed lovers endures. The faint, slight brush of comparison to Romeo and Juliet is just subtle enough, just convincing enough, that it breaks your heart. For me, Hazel’s engagement with the world, and her willingness to be loved and to love: that is the stuff of literature and legacy. Her development and growth from page one to “I do” does everything a great novel should do.
So get out there, dear reader, and read it. And if you’ve read it, treat yourself to Round 2, as I did. It holds up just fine (and more so). As always, at my favorite: Powell’s.