Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel Grace has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
For the record, I cried for the last 15% of John Green’s new novel, The Fault in Our Stars. Now you may feel as if I’m spoiling the book. I’m not. It’s a book about dying. Well technically it’s about cancer, living with it, dying from it, watching others do the same. But ultimately it’s a book about death. More specifically about living with death. Having death inside you. Having death ricochet off those you love and leave rubble where there was once a person. It’s about being left as scrap metal yourself and the process of being rebuilt. So tell me how could I not have cried?
As some of you might recall, I am an avid John Green fan. When forced to name my top five favorite books, Looking for Alaska appears upon that list and Paper Towns is in the top ten somewhere. The Fault in Our Stars however, would not make that list. Oh it is by far his most emotional, and absolutely his nearest return to the poignancy and pontification of life and human that he achieved in Alaska. General bursts of merriment, abrupt frankness, teens speaking like PhD candidates, and an innate understanding of human nature dominate this book as all his others, but it lacks the sense of fun and adventure. Perhaps this is intentional. Cancer is not meant to be fun and while you could categorize it as an adventure it’s more of the nightmarish kind. Despite the humor and the abject reality of what it does and doesn’t mean to live with cancer, this is a serious book. This is a sob for 15% of it book. And while that means that it will stick with me and that it was a hundred percent a fantastic novel, I’m not sure that I’d read it again. I don’t know that I could put myself through it. So for that I rank it below Alaska, but above most everything else I’ve read in the past year (Anything Mortal Instrument related are thereby exempt from this ranking as they are in their own category).
Perhaps though, instead of abstractly pontificating upon the book, I should tell you something about it. If you were not already aware, this is John Green’s first attempt at writing a girl’s perspective…and you would never be able to tell. Hazel Grace has a dry wit, an obsession with the theoretical study of suffering, loves to read and has a guilty spot for America’s Next Top Model. Her lungs don’t work and without a doubt she will die from cancer. Her prognosis is not an if, but when. She’s forced to attend a cancer support group, that she disdains, but seems to secretly take something from even if it’s just a nice separation from her mother. It is there she meets Augustus Waters. He lost a leg battling cancer but has since gone into remission. He’s charismatic, hot, obsessed with metaphors, can’t drive to save his life, and possess a single-minded determination. A focus which he turns upon Hazel.
Their relationship abounds with complex metaphorical and abstract principles, debates over Hazel’s-turn-Augustus’- favorite book, and their determination to uncover what happens next. It’s sweet and awkward and the ever-looming presence of cancer gives it a bitter-sweet tinge that prevents it from ever being normal. Augustus is one for the grand gesture- in life and with Hazel. He is determined that he will leave his lone footprint deeply enough within the earth that he will be remembered. Hazel is the exact opposite. She tiptoes quietly through life trying to leave as small an imprint as possible. Yet somehow they make sense together.
John Green writes romance as he does anything else, with a subtle and realistic hand, delving just deep enough to make you feel it, but never so far that it overwhelms you. Despite the intrinsic tragic nature of a book about cancer, and the reference to star-crossed lovers, Green isn’t trying to write Romeo & Juliet- the cancer version. In actuality he’s exploring the many faces of death- of people, of relationships, of stories and the possibility and sometimes promise of life thereafter.
If this were anyone else’s books, in all honesty I wouldn’t have read it. A book dealing with cancer? Are you kidding? That’s like paying someone to make me depressed. But it’s John Green and with some authors you trust that they will take you on and deliver you from their journey. And he did. I learned something in the process, about life, about death, about cancer, and about myself. And that sometimes, even the intangible is relative and we can be infinite, whether we are big or small.
Grab your tissues and read the book. Trust me, it’s worth it.
For those who already did and want to OMG SPOILER discuss, have at it in the comments.