Tuesday, May 8, 2012
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
January 10, 2012; Dutton Books
Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs... for now.
Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.
Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.(courtesy of Goodreads)
I was skeptical about picking up The Fault In Our Stars. Everyone - and I mean everyone - raved about this book. I can't remember the last time I saw so many people drooling over one book (even more than Stephanie Perkins' books). It couldn't really be that great could it? My skepticism continued as I read The Fault In Our Stars . It was good, but I didn't see why everyone was declaring it to be the greatest thing since the discovery of chocolate. Fast forward to a day or two after I finished the book. A line from the book popped into my head that I liked. Then another one. Then an entire scene. Soon, I was reminiscing with great fondness and sadness at the glory of every word in this book. John Green's spell took awhile to catch on, but within a week after finishing The Fault In Our Stars, I had fallen for the book hook, line, and sinker.
In some senses, there's nothing overly special about The Fault In Our Stars. It deals with cancer, along with 10 million other YA books. People die, as they do in practically every YA book. You don't know how the plot will unfold at the beginning of the book, but it's not hugely surprising. And while it is poignant and sad, it did not actually make me cry (shocking, since I cry at toilet paper commercials).
In more lasting ways, it is an incredible book. Every page has lines that are quotable. You need to read the book with a pen ready to underline (unless, like me, you are reading a library copy). A "character" in The Fault In Our Stars is a book called "An Imperial Affliction," a book about a girl with cancer that Hazel and Augustus are obsessed with. They quote it all the time and go to huge lengths to find out more about it. John Green wrote a book like the made-up "An Imperial Affliction", one that is mean to be thought about over and over. Most plot heavy books where I eagerly turn the pages to find out who the villain is or if the hero will survive are done when I read the final page. I know the ending so I don't care to look back at it. A thoughtful book like The Fault In Our Stars is just beginning at the last page. I could read The Fault In Our Stars 300 times and still see something new. It is that kind of book.
Hazel and Augustus are inherently likable characters. I especially adore Augustus. He is hilarious, thoughtful, daring, and arrogant in a very attractive way. Hazel is a bit harder to pin down personality-wise. She is also smart and thoughtful and easily holds up on her side of Augustus's banter. She is stubborn, dour, yet passionate. She is a good daughter. Isaac is another star. He is your stereotypical sex-crazed teenage boy who turns everything into a double entendre. Hazel's parents are significant characters in this novel. I loved their inclusion. Hazel is closer to them than most teenagers, partly because she is stuck at home but largely because both Hazel and her parents realize that time is limited and every day together could be their last. It puts things into perspective.
Would you find teens in real life who talk like Hazel and Augustus? Probably not. They spend large amounts of time pondering the meaning of life and discussing philosophy. Every word that comes out of their mouth sounds like it was carefully scripted by someone smarter than me. But I don't really care. When you're reading it, it feels real. The emotions feel real. As a reader, you ponder and grow with every page. Hazel and Augustus's overly wise musings worm their way into your heart.
Many scenes in The Fault In Our Stars are permanently etched into my mind. A few (non-spoilery) scenes that I enjoyed most are (1) the trophy toss; (2) car egging; (3) Anne Frank; (4) car outside the gas station. Some of these scenes are funny, some of passionate, some are heartbreakingly sad. All are beautiful.
The Fault In Our Stars is an exceptional book. It's not the kind of novel you read to have a good time, although there are plenty of places where you'll laugh. It's a book you read to fall in love, to learn, and to grow.