9 Ways The Fault in Our Stars Changed the Last Decade of Pop Culture

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

January, 2012: Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol reigned at the box office, a new show called Girls premiered on HBO, Lana Del Rey told us we were Born to Die … and a young-adult novel about two kids with cancer falling in love became a massive sensation. The sixth book from John Green, The Fault in Our Stars, debuted January 10 at No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list, where it would stay for months. Within the year, there’d be special editions, nearly a million copies printed, and the announcement of a highly anticipated movie adaptation, not to mention a fan base of readers larger and more passionate than the book world had seen since perhaps Twilight.

A decade after its release, the success of TFIOS seems obvious. Of course a YA romance about star-crossed teens would do well! Of course the endlessly quotable, social-media-savvy John Green would become a celebrity! Of course Hollywood would green-light a movie based on the book three weeks after its debut! But back at the start of 2012, the “sick teen” genre barely existed, Green was just a decently popular author known best for his vlogs, and theaters were filled with movies about supernatural kids, not super-unlucky ones. TFIOS wasn’t a guaranteed hit — far from it.

Yet thanks to some clever marketing and stellar reviews, a hit it became, and the world hasn’t been the same since. In celebration of the book’s tenth anniversary, here are the biggest effects that TFIOS has had on our lives a decade out.

The Rise of the “Sick Teens in Love” Genre

As you may recall, The Fault in Our Stars tells the story of Hazel and Gus, two high-schoolers with cancer who embark on a star-crossed romance. It wasn’t the first book to portray high-schoolers dealing with illness while pursuing love (see A Time to Die, Too Young to Die, even the Judy Blume scoliosis classic Deenie). But most of those works came out decades earlier. The enormous success of Green’s book led to a renewed interest in the genre. From Five Feet Apart, a romance novel featuring teens with cystic fibrosis, to Everything, Everything, Nicola Yoon’s best seller about a lovestruck girl suffering from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, to Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, a critics’ darling with a plot summarized by its title, both Hollywood and the young-adult publishing industry have been awash in these stories ever since TFIOS’ debut, and audiences have responded in droves at the bookstore and the box office.

The Rise of Shailene Woodley

At the beginning of 2012, Woodley was still starring on The Secret Life of the American Teenager but beginning to emerge as a legitimate talent thanks to a Golden Globe–nominated performance in 2011’s The Descendants. The moment she was cast as Hazel in the film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars, however, her star rose drastically, and her resulting performance earned a wave of rave reviews that jump-started an adult career that’s still going strong today.

The Rise of John Green

Like Woodley, Green became a true celebrity thanks to The Fault in Our Stars, albeit in quite a different way. Prior to the book’s release, the author was well-known in two worlds: young-adult fiction because of the success of his previous novels like Looking for Alaska and YouTube because of his popular VlogBrothers channel with his brother, Hank. After TFIOS came out, though, Green became the rare writer (alongside other YA heavyweights like J.K. Rowling and Judy Blume) to become a household name, thanks in large part to his savvy social-media presence and genuine enthusiasm for all things pop culture.

The Rise of the Manic Pixie Dream Boy

Although the “manic pixie dream girl” has been a widely known stock character since the mid-aughts, there were few notable examples of her male version until The Fault in Our Stars introduced Augustus Waters. Quirky, thoughtful, ultraliterate, and hot (duh), Gus is pure teen fantasy: a quote-giving, floppy-haired Tumblr mood board come to life. And once audiences were introduced to Ansel Elgort in the movie version, the “manic pixie dream boy” fully took hold, both in fiction (i.e., every Cole Sprouse character) and in real life (Harry Styles, Pete Davidson, Machine Gun Kelly … the list goes on). Even Jack Dawson has been recategorized as a MPDB before his time. 

The Rise of Adults Proudly Loving YA

To be clear, The Fault in Our Stars is far, far from the first novel aimed at teens to capture adults’ hearts. From Speak to The Book Thief to Ready Player One, the YA world has long been filled with works that appeal to readers of all ages, and it’s nonsensical that there’s ever been a stigma against grown-ups loving the genre. Yet unfortunately, that shaming was alive and well during the early 2010s. Still, when TFIOS came out, millions of adult readers found themselves obsessing over Green’s novel and connecting deeply to its adolescent protagonists. The belated communal realization that YA books could be as smart, well-developed, and captivating as any others led to a surge in the genre’s popularity, and while the stigma hasn’t disappeared completely, it’s certainly become far less controversial for a 40-year-old to be caught reading Sarah Dessen or Angie Thomas on the subway.

The Rise of Charli XCX

Yes, the rise of Charli XCX and her ultrahit “Boom Clap” can technically be attributed to TFIOS’ release, as the song appeared on the film’s soundtrack. With the ridiculously catchy track, XCX went from an up-and-coming talent to a serious star — and the rest of us were stuck with “the beat goes on and on and on” in our heads for years to come.

The Rise of Everyone and Their Mother Getting a Quote Tattoo

“My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations.” “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once.” “Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.” With so many memorable lines, TFIOS inspired an ungodly number of quote tattoos after the releases of both the book and film. Whether every person who got one back then still feels as strongly about the decision today is unknown, but hopefully their clouds and infinity signs still look cool, at least. Okay? Okay.

9 Ways The Fault in Our Stars Changed Pop Culture