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Someday My Printz Will Come
Inside Someday My Printz Will Come

The Fault in Our Stars, Pyrite Redux

Back in September, Sarah reviewed The Fault in Our Stars.

At the time, she said, “When you add the serious subject matter, the thoughtful treatment of said subject matter, the memorable characters, and the five-hanky tear-jerker of a plot, you know there’s a lot to talk about in terms of Printz-worthiness.”

She went on to say, “But the decision to bring Van Hauten back makes this book suddenly feel like A Cancer Book — full of lessons and realizations and Important Character Growth. It’s cliche and I believe it severely weakens the integrity of the book.”

Four months have passed (and 12 since the book came out). It’s on the Pyrite* list, and came in second in the poll that determined the Pyrite shortlist. Was this just because it’s the one book everyone has read? Has it stood the test of time? Does it have what it takes to go the distance? Discuss!

 

*The Pyrite Printz, or Pyrite, is the Someday My Printz Will Come mock Printz deliberation, and should not in any way be confused with YALSA’s Michael L. Printz Award, often referred to here as the RealPrintz or Printz. Our predictions, conversations, and speculation about potential RealPrintz contenders and winners reflect only our own best guesses and are not affiliated with YALSA or the RealPrintz committee. You probably figured that out on your own, but we like to make it clear!

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Comments

  1. Karyn Silverman says:

    I loved this book. I laughed and I sobbed. Five hankies indeed! But… I felt manipulated. It wasn’t cathartic crying.

    And I thought the Van Houghten subplot was largely at fault, so although there’s an emotional component to my criticism, it’s an emotional effect caused by a literary misstep.

    Hazel and Gus are too smart. The dialogue is too sparkly. But that’s style, so accuracy isn’t the issue, and it’s dialogue that does exactly what it sets out to do.

    But Van Houghten and the entire arc of that story — especially his late in the book re-emergence — made it suddenly obvious that this was a work of fiction, and the genuine heart was ripped out of it. It’s an unsubtle plot twist, and I found Van Houghten as a character unbelievable. And that’s what has stuck with me for the past year.

  2. Maureen E says:

    I think for me it was the combination of prose style, plot, and Van Houten which constantly reminded me that I was reading fiction, which constantly reminded me how clever the book was being. I’m sure a lot of it is personal preference when it comes to writing styles, but it really doesn’t work for me. I like what Karyn says above about feeling manipulated–I mean, I cried since I am weepy anyway. But Augustus Waters was a little too manic pixie dream boy for me–the male equivalent of Margo Roth Spiegelman and all Green’s other female characters. And in the end I cried because I was supposed to cry, while all the while being aware that what I was crying about was fiction. Whereas with my favorite books, I cry because the characters seem so real that I forget, just for a moment, that they’re not. So I think there are significant faults which a lot of the novel’s fans aren’t necessarily seeing.

  3. H. Munca says:

    For years, I’ve heard people talk about the “John Green formula”, and I never put much stock in it. I usually defended him as being like a director who uses the same actors over and over. I saw someone somewhere compare it to playing chess (pieces are always the same, after all, but each game is different). So is it weird that the two times he’s ostensibly mixed it up (here, and Paper Towns, where he was trying to deconstruct the MPDG trope) are the two times that have felt MOST formulaic to me? Because it feels kind of obvious and self-conscious to me, in both cases.

    I don’t mind theme-and variation, or authors hashing out their personal preoccupations or exploring the same kinds of stuff from different angles. I don’t mind authors being visible in their work – to some extent, I think they can’t help it – but I feel like Green has become too visible, self-consciously visible, and is producing some kind of postmodern self-aware meta-literature now.

    And I know the book isn’t supposed to be judged relative to the author’s other works, or relative to his ubiquitous (not-to-my-taste) internet persona, but he really is so ubiquitous that I can’t tease out my objectivity very well.

  4. Kathryn says:

    I’m a first time commenter, although a long time reader, so if I make a gaffe, please don’t take offense, but judging this book by John Green’s other books, or, in fact, to John Green himself as a writer, YouTube persona, or human being, doesn’t seem to me adhere to the Printz guidelines or to the usual level of discourse that I love about this blog. Of course, it’s fun to knock things when they are at the top, but it confuses me that I haven’t seen the level of celebrating I’d expect when a book that is firmly within the YA world receives the sort of universal acclaim that Fault has.
    There is so much to love about this book–Hazel’s characterization, the dialogue, the parents, and the fact that Green offers a heartbreaking portrayal of the awful things that can happen to a family without stooping to the sentimental or treacle. I understand the criticism of Van Houten’s return and the suggestion it gives that Augustus’ death was his salvation and other Cancer Book nonsense, and the first time I read it, I held my breath, thinking “Please don’t ruin this book..,” but, for me, Green rescues it with this sentence after Hazel kicks Van Houten out of the car: “As I watched him shrink in the rearview mirror, he pulled out the bottle and for a second it looked like he would leave it on the curb. And then he took a swig.” There is no redemption in suffering.
    I’m not sure if this is my top for the year as I havne’t finished Code Name Verity now, but I do think that Fault should be judged on its own.

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      Looking back at Sarah’s original review and at my own comments, above, I think all of the formal Someday review of Fault has been about the book itself, and not about John Green. Commenters, of course, are free to express any opinion!
      That said, I think John Green has, thanks to his brilliant self-promotion and the way he uses social media to connect with fans and readers, become impossible to ignore in thinking about his books. I looked at the professional reviews of Fault, and almost all make reference to John Green books, or dialogue, or some other element of writing as his. We can try to move past it, but he is sort of a legend and it does make an unbiased approach to the writing much harder.
      But actually, I think the entire Van Houten/Imperial Affliction thread demands a meta reading regardless — a book about kids with cancer featuring a book about a kid with cancer pretty much begs the reader to wonder how the author of the book within the book relates to the author of the book. For me, that added to what Sarah called the “weaksauce” of the Van Houten stuff, although this is a largely strong book. Still not in my top 5 — but I am delighted that Time’s #1 book of the year is a YA title!

    • H. Munca says:

      No, no, I totally agree with that! I just don’t know HOW, and I don’t know where they’re going to get committee members who can do it either.

    • TK says:

      I’m of a similar mind to Kathryn in that I feel that the RealCommittee should do its very best to separate John Green the persona from The Fault in our Stars the novel. I’m a former RealCommittee member who has certain feelings about Mr Green (and his brother) but has largely steered clear of him outside of his writing. That doesn’t mean I have no opinion of him. That said, if I read a witty article written by an author, or see a tweet she posts that rubs me the wrong way, or I’m enamored by her speech for a previous book, what is the effect on a book before me that qualifies for the current year’s Printz? I would hope not a whole lot.

      • Karyn Silverman says:

        TK, you would hope, but don’t you think that these things absolutely have an effect and create bias, just as liking or disliking an author’s previous works does? It’s a piece of the baggage and context we carry, and we need to acknowledge it in order to work through it. And I think in this particular case, it’s even more challenging than usual, because this is an author who has chosen to give the world himself as well as his books — we know a lot about John Green (whether it’s his real self or a public persona), and it’s difficult to work past that to only look at the book. Added to that is that he very much has a style, and so we have expectations and responses shaped by familiarity with his previous work.

        In our local mock this weekend, there was a moment when someone asked about the passengers in Ask the Passengers — was it magic realism? Imaginary? Everyone who was familiar with King’s work had just assumed it was magic realism because King employs that in her work; those who were new to her as an author had questions. So those with one context (King’s body of work) praised the way those passages conveyed thematic depth, while those without that context saw those passages as a question mark that detracted from the overall quality of the book. Isn’t that the same as raising the question of style in Fault and either saying it’s his style therefore it works (because we’ve been trained to accept it, in a way), or saying I know nothing about Green’s style but these kids sound fake?

        And is it very far from there to the knowledge we have about an author and the ideas they brought to the book? They may not be what the conversation should revolve around, but they are part of the reader response and reader response is the hardest piece of baggage to overcome.

        None of which is to say I don’t agree with Kathryn, but since I don’t think the heart of the conversation has ever been about John Green and has been about his work, once the baggage is put away (here, and I trust in the RealCommittee, because I have great faith that they are, as always, doing their level best), I’m much more interested in the bigger questions that this example raises about readership in today’s (social, connected, fannish) world.

  5. Barbara Moon says:

    Here is another RealCommittee question: does the committee consider every written word, including, in the case of this particular book, the author’s notes, acknowledgements, afterward, etc or only the story itself?

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      Crikey, just hit cancel instead of post on a reply!

      Short re-do: I don’t know of any formal guidelines for the additional material your are describing, but anything specific to the work at hand — backmatter, for instance, including an author’s note — should be part of the work considered. Acknowledgements are, in my eyes, not specific to the work (I mean, they are, but if the content were different the acknowledgements might be the same, if that makes any sense) and strike me as more like an author’s blog or Twitter feed and I would not consider them in my assessment unless told to do so by my committee chair. (I do, however, always read dedications and acknowledgements, but I suspect many readers skip them.)

      Any other former (or even current) RealCommittee folks know if this is something with established guidelines?

      • TK says:

        I know we had a short debate about a book on my RealCommittee year where the publisher got the name of one of the protagonists wrong on the dust jacket flap. We decided we didn’t hold that against the author, who we know almost never has anything to do with that part of bookmaking.
        As for backmatter/author’s note, yes, I think those are part of what the writer has prepared for the reader. Acknowledgements/Dedications? There would have to be something extremely integral to the rest of the package for me to consider them in my assessment.

        • Karyn Silverman says:

          What about typos? I’ve seen final books riddled with copy errors, and occasional content errors — changing eye colors, say, or the wrong name. Does this fall under author responsibility or editorial? Or is a straight-up typo one thing and a mistake another? But then the mistake might be an editorial slip too, something that was changed along the way and one instance wasn’t caught. It’s all so tricky, drawing these lines about editor, designer, author, etc. (As per the design convo on the Bomb and Moonbird posts)

          And thank you for “prepared for the reader” — that’s a very pithy phrase that was not coming to me but is just right for the kind of material we’re talking about.

  6. Jonathan Hunt Jonathan Hunt says:

    This is completely off-topic, Karyn, but when this blog started up several months ago you mentioned a 2013 “Mary Poppins” title, but you wouldn’t name names because it was too far away, and you didn’t want to mercilessly torture us. Now that the new year is upon us is there any chance we can get you to cough up the name of that title?

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      Oh, I suppose so, although now I’ll feel terrible is after waiting all these months you all hate it.

      Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger. A delightful, fluffy, zany read. Enjoy!

  7. Miriam says:

    I also enjoyed this book but wasn’t blown away by it–and like other folk, part of my issue was the sense of conscious manipulation. I could see each piece being placed, which detracted from the wonder/suspense/immersion that so often characterize brilliant reading experiences.

    More than anything else, it struck me as too precious. It was giving these kids their moments of love and beauty, which was sweet, but… a sort of posed, self-conscious sweetness that’s trying to make the observer cry rather than letting the observer cry, if that makes sense.

  8. J Curry says:

    I read this book almost a year ago. It was an enjoyable read and it’s stuck with me but I would never feel compelled to re-read it. It strikes me as sort of a one-note book, where there really isn’t any more to be revealed on deeper reading. But a book like “Ask the Passengers,” for example, is something I would like to read again because the author has left things open to the reader’s imagination. (Was Astrid really communicating with passengers, or was that in her mind? Either interpretation is valid.)

    I’m curious about anyone on this message board who has read “The Fault in Our Stars” more than once. Did you find anything the second time that you missed the first time?

    For me, the Van Houten part of the storyline was a big flaw in the book. I was glad he turned out to be a jerk when they met him in person, but his attempt at redemption in the end suspended my disbelief so far that it snapped. I just didn’t buy it, and resented that the author was even trying to sell it to me. There wasn’t anything the author (Green, that is) did to lay the groundwork for this reclusive a$$hole author suddenly getting a heart and soul and a plane ticket.

    Which takes me to another thing that bothered me about this book, this related to Barbara Moon’s question above about the author’s note: what about the made-up cancer drug, which the author tells us in a note doesn’t exist but it should? Really? Is the author not skilled enough to write a novel about two kids with cancer without making up a medical treatment? To my mind, this is just pure laziness on the part of the author. I also thought it was the height of hubris for him to wag his finger at his readers to remind them they were reading a work of fiction before the book even begins. Patronize much?

    These two things in particular (the Van Houten storyline and the lazy plot devices) kept me from finding the book award-worthy.

    • TK says:

      J, while all of your points in your third and fourth paragraphs are certainly concerns the RealCommittee will have to wrestle with with regard to TFioS, I would like to address your comments in paragraphs one and two.
      There is nothing stated in the Printz criteria that says anything about re-readability of a book. That quality doesn’t make a book any more or less worthy of receiving the Award or Honor. In fact, I am a bit concerned that we put any value at all on a work of literature being better or more worthy if it has more to be revealed in deeper reading. As in all art forms, with literature sometimes once is enough to show brilliance. Many forms of literature (two that immediately spring to mind are allegory and mystery fiction) have much of their strength contained in the initial read. Yet I do not think that they are rendered ineligible because they must reveal more in subsequent readings.

      • Elizabeth Burns says:

        My take on rereading and its importance: a single reading may reveal brilliance, true. But that second and third reading may reveal weaknesses and flaws that the initial reading overlooked. Likewise, because of the examination of the literary nature of the book, the book as a whole may need to be read and reviewed, and that is only possible upon reread. Remove the “what happens next” that may drive a first read and the second read allows the reader to find out why it happens, how it is constructed — these things are often called the “deeper” reading, but it’s not so much about the book (even tho we may talk about it as it were) as what the reader is able to see, notice, and appreciate during a reading.

        Some readers may be able to do all that on an only-read of a book. I personally find multiple readings allow me to look for and concentrate on different elements of the book, instead of doing it all at once.

  9. Sarah says:

    I really appreciate the discussion of this title. I am a big fan of the books John Green has written and I suppose I’d consider myself a fan of John Green himself, though not with the rabidity of some Nerdfighteria. I read the book back when it first came out and haven’t brought myself to re-read it. This is not because I don’t want to – it’s because I can’t bring myself to go through the emotional experience again quite yet. And that is, I think, my problem when it comes to discussing this book critically – I’m not sure that I, as a reader, can separate my emotional reaction to this book from a critical reading of the book. Perhaps on re-reading I could make this distinction but I haven’t had the will or time to attempt this yet. So I really appreciate everyone else chiming in with their critial qualms and issues about this book.

  10. TK says:

    I agree with you, Liz, that in choosing the winner and honor books for Printz that re-reading is useful and often required to find flaws (or, I might add, gems) that the initial reading may have overlooked. But what troubled me was the impression that the chosen books must have deeper reading qualities that will reveal more to a reader upon a second or subsequent read. I don’t see any sort of indicator in the Printz criteria that speaks to this, nor do I believe that it necessarily makes for a better – or for that matter, more literary – book.

  11. J Curry says:

    Sorry, TK, I wasn’t speaking to the Printz criteria when I mentioned the importance of re-reading. I’m sorry you read it that way. What I was trying to say is that with award committee discussions, there is a lot of careful reading and re-reading on the part of committee members, and those books that reveal more on re-reading are the ones that most often rise to the top, whether they deserve to or not. I think that’s why books that win awards like Printz and Newbery tend to be more complex narratives.

    There is also nothing in the Printz criteria that says a book should make you cry buckets of tears, which seems to be the overwhelming positive response cited when it comes to The Fault in Our Stars. If a reader doesn’t have an emotional response to it, what makes it a good book?

    • Mark Flowers says:

      I am absolutely stunned by this conversation. Of course rereading is an absolutely integral part to analyzing the literary merit of a book, and yes, a book or any piece of art MUST stand up to multiple readings. This has been a basic tenet of art and literary criticism for literally centuries if not millennia. Any good mystery will bear rereading even after knowing the ending. The Printz criteria don’t need to state this, because they state that the award is for literary excellence, which implied what I just mentioned about the history of literary analysis.

      As for emotional reactions–um, there are many many different types of reactions a book might elicit to make it excellent. Intellectual, political, spiritual, pure aesthetic admiration. Emotions are not the be all and end all of literary excellence, and in fact one’s emotional reaction should be highly suspect to be sure that one is not being emotional manipulated (as I believe is the case with TFiOS) rather than being given a true emotional experience.

  12. Sarah says:

    Maybe this is my naivete showing, but I’m surprised to see how many people felt emotionally manipulated by this book. I said before that I find it hard to separate my emotional reading of this book from a critical reading, but I didn’t feel emotionally manipulated. It’s a book about two kids with cancer falling in love – I expected to have an emotional reaction.

    However, I do understand people’s feelings about the Van Houten storyline and how it felt wrong. I might even agree, but I’d have to read it again. But on my initial read, this is where it was, for me, difficult to separate the man from the book. The problem with the characters being too perfect, the book too precious, and the Van Houten storyline too redemptive didn’t strike me as a problem in my first read because it’s what I expected from a John Green novel. So, I’d definitely need another read through to see if I actually think these things are problematic.

    Though it’s my from the heart favorite book of last year, I don’t think it will win the Printz. There are too many other strong contenders that are less divisive and problematic for it to take the gold.

    • Karyn Silverman says:

      So, at the Mock Printz last week, the question cam e up about literary and stylized and training — you say, “The problem with the characters being too perfect, the book too precious, and the Van Houten storyline too redemptive didn’t strike me as a problem in my first read because it’s what I expected from a John Green novel,” and what we were wondering about was whether we all, as readers, give some authors some slack for things that we might tear apart in someone else’s work because it is that author’s formula. It’s very similar to the question that has come up for Drowned Cities re: world building, I think, and I really wonder how we would all be reacting to Fault if we didn’t have preconceived notions about the author. In short, are these overly stylized elements hallmarks of literary excellence, or do we just allow them because we know at this point they are deliberate?

      And I do think this is one that is handicapped by the feelings surrounding it and John Green himself. That plus the actual issues I think are likely to keep this from true gold consideration.

      • Sarah says:

        That is exactly what I was getting at – these are the sorts of things I expect from John Green. Had this book been written by someone else, it’s entirely possible that I would have considered these things to be problems. It’s something I’ve thought about briefly before, but would definitely need to spend more time thinking on if I were on the Real Committee.

  13. Silje says:

    When I read TFIOS I hadn’t read anything by John Green or even heard a lot about the author. I understand now that he is a big thing and that can work both for him and against him. I have to say this novel blew me away even though it has certain flaws (I agree that bringing Van Houten back in the end didn’t work). I decided to overlook these flaws in my review/opinion of the book because the rest of the book is so good but when you evaluate the book for an award based solely on literary merits you can’t do the same.

    I have to say that I never felt emotionally manipulated during the read of this book. It was more of a true emotional experience (as Mark Flowers calls it) that made me both think and feel. As Sarah says above it’s a story about two kids with cancer so you’re bound to have an emotional reaction, but I have cried a lot more for a lot less. The strenght of this book in my opinion is in it’s honesty and genuineness when it comes to a difficult matter all done in such a clever way. Green has a certain and unique writing style that I think you either fall for or you don’t. This is above all a matter of personal taste but that his writing is of high quality is not.

    No matter what, everyone and especially an experienced reader, have a lot of baggage and on top of that a personal taste. If you have read a lot of books in a certain genre you might be more critical towards books in this genre or maybe you prefer them to others. I guess it’s imposible to be objective or completely unbiased. But there are objective literary criterias and I guess you have to decide which ones are going to be of more importance.

    Just so you now I am a new reader to this blog and pretty new to the whole english-speaking blogosphere (I usually read and write in the norwegian one) so I might not get the whole picture. I think this discussion is very interesting and I thought I would give my opinion as someone not influenced by all of that surrounding John Green while reading this book. TFIOS is actually being published in norwegian in february and it’s the first Green-book in norwegian. I’m considering re-reading it;-)

  14. Andrew Hjermstad says:

    Great comments everyone! I found this page searching for Printz Award speculation. Of course, I never would have been interested in who wins the Printz if not for John Green and his previous books. (And the vlogbrothers) So I came here heavily biased toward TFiOS.

    I too, found the dialogue too perfect. But that’s part of the premise: these are smart kids. Kids who don’t mess around. The threat of death tends to pull conversations to the razor’s edge of relevance.

    Van Houten was over the top, a caricature. But this is a mentally ill man, I can excuse his craziness, fueled by the jargon that only a crazy-good author can understand. And is it really altogether too difficult to believe that he would come to America? These kids for all we know have been his only contact with the outside world in years!

    Anyway, y’all have some good points. I now am not blindly hoping Green wins.

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