I’d heard good things about John Green, though I’d never previously read one of his novels nor visited his YouTube site, Vlogbrothers. When the opportunity arose to review his new book, The Fault in Our Stars, I jumped at the chance. (I didn’t jump. I’m not sure I even moved from the chair where I was sitting – but I did fill out a little form, marking ‘yes’ in the oval next to “Do you want to read this book?”) Moving on…
Let me be honest: I liked the title. I vaguely remember reading something positive about The Fault… so when it arrived at my door, I was anxious to crack it open and get to work. Within no time, I realized that I was heading into Cancer Book #3. My two previous reviews involved cancer as a fictional catalyst (The Weird Sisters) and cancer as a memoir (The Rules of Inheritance). The Fault in Our Stars is also fiction and uses the C-word and its affliction among a group of teens as the central focus, in addition to all that entails. Upon grasping this, I sighed, nearly cried, then reminded myself that it was only a book.
Hazel lives in Indiana. She’s made it to the age of seventeen with the help of an experimental ‘miracle’ drug, though everyone, including her parents, knows she’s terminal. With cancer comes social complications and since Hazel no longer attends school regularly, her mother forces her out to a cancer support group. There, she meets Augustus Waters: charming beyond imagination, in healthy remission, and immediately drawn to our protagonist. Theirs is a meet-cute over which a terminal cloud hovers. No worries for the reader, though. John Green makes it easy for us to spend time with them, especially when keeping in mind that they are characters in a novel and not children for whom we’ll be asked to attend a funeral. (I’m not kidding. Without constantly reminding myself of such, I would not have made it through this wonderful book.)
Green doesn’t settle for cancer sub-plots, instead opening up the book beyond Indianapolis and hospitals all the way to Amsterdam, where our couple finally meets the reclusive author of An Imperial Affliction, a book with which they’re both obsessed. Except Peter Van Houten turns out to be not whom they imagined, and much less than they’d hoped.
The clever teenage characters in Green’s book bring to mind the precocious lead in Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs. Hard to believe that any sixteen- or seventeen-year-old could have as skillful a wit as, say, Jon Stewart – or evoke envy for their spontaneously brilliant bantering skills. However, the difference between Moore’s hero and Green’s is that I didn’t care. The author is so thoroughly capable of enchanting the reader with Hazel, Augustus (Gus, for short), and their friend Isaac, that it’s even possible not to be sad for them and their disease. Sure, I sobbed after one of the characters died. It takes little to scare oneself into imagining what it would be like to have a sick child – and therefore I took to reading the book during the day, so as not to have bad dreams at night. (I remember doing this with Stephen King’s The Shining – for different reasons. Redrum.) But these are people living with illness, not waiting around for the inevitable. I was always eager to get back to their adventures, even while foolishly hoping there was an element of science fiction to come, involving a previously undiscovered cure.
There is some brevity required in reading a book like The Fault in Our Stars. There’s no denying that not everyone is up to the task. If you are, John Green will reward you with a soulful story about life, romance, love, and yes, death. Give it a go.
Disclaimer: Once again I must tell you, I got paid big, big bucks to write this review (courtesy of BlogHer) but the opinions expressed are my own.