Monday, April 23, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green


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.

The first sentence of this synopsis had me leaving this book on the shelf. I can freely admit that books about cancer scare me. I suppose that before The Fault in Our Stars I never read books like this because life is full of, quite frankly, very scary things so I like to keep my fiction simple. Possibly that's why I like fantasy so much. But enough of all this introspection. I wanted to read this though because I love the Vlogbrothers and all things Nerdfighteria and I'd heard such great things about TFIOS that I knew I'd have to get over my fears.

Hazel starts the book depressed. Her life revolves around her parents and the medication that's keeping her alive. She's sent to a support group which is the most depressing place in the world. The kids who attend tend to die leaving everyone wondering who's next and it's run by a cancer survivor who retells his story at the start of each meeting. However, Augustus comes to support his friend Isaac and so meets Hazel. What follows is as much about teenage relationships as it is about dealing with death and illness. Both Hazel and Augustus are survivors but their experience has left them in a strange place. Previous friends and pass times are no longer an option which means they both seem to be frozen at a certain age, a certain part of their adolescence. Hazel, for example, constantly re-reads a fictitious book called An Imperial Affliction by Peter van Houten about a girl who has cancer. It isn't until Augustus lends her a book that she finally starts a new chapter. Sorry, clumsy metaphor I know but it really is touching watching Augustus change Hazel's life.

There's not much more I can say about the plot without spoiling it. It's clear to me that The Fault in Our Stars is a very special book. Hazel and Augustus teach us that you need to grab happiness where you can but also revel in the ordinary aspects of life. There are some very thought-provoking passages but also some ridiculously funny lines. Isaac is another fantastic character and the three of them use humour and brutal honesty to get through their ordeal. Hazel shows us how isolated she is and how much she worries about her parents. Though she doesn't always realise it she shows us how her parents have struggled to come to terms with her illness. Hazel's mum, for example, appears to allow her life to revolve around her daughter. As the book progresses we see that she's planned ahead, she hasn't let Hazel's illness curtail her future.

I'm failing to put into words how wonderful this book is. I spent much of it in tears but there's so much beauty in this book. If you haven't read it please don't let the subject put you off. Hazel and Augustus may well be my favourite romantic couple of the year. Unlike Hazel and An Imperial Affliction I have a pretty good idea about what happens after the book ends, but I'm okay with it.

Also, last few lines of this book? Best ever.

For those who have finished TFIOS there is a Q & A with John Green but please don't check this out before reading.

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