Young adult (YA) literature continues to be a hot commodity. From the Hunger Games to Divergent series, everyone seems to be reading YA, including adults. I am skeptical about YA titles and tend to only read adult fiction, but when I received recommendations for The Fault in Our Stars from two reader friends I trust, I had to give it a try. It is certainly engaging, funny, heartbreaking, and worth the time. This story, written by John Green, is being made into a movie set to release this June. So, there is time to get “in the know” and read the book before the movie comes out, which is part of the fun and frenzy of these popular book to movie phenomenons.
The story revolves around two sick teenagers who cross paths at a cancer support group meeting for kids. Hazel is there because her mother is desperate for her to get out and still experience the world. She is tethered to an oxygen tank and no longer goes to her high school because she doesn’t have the energy. Augustus, apparently in remission at the time of their meeting, is primarily there to support his friend Isaac. Hazel has been a stage IV lung cancer patient for three years and has been diagnosed with clinical depression. Both her mother and doctors think the group will help. It does, but not in the way they think it will. Augustus’s cancer resulted in him losing a leg, so he wears a prosthesis, which he can joke about. Since he was a star basketball player, it changed what he envisioned his life being. The book does a great job of exploring loss and how one still has to move on with a different outlook. Hazel’s story is unique because it isn’t often that a narrative is given from the perspective of a girl who has been terminal for so long.
Hazel and Augustus are both intelligent and snarky and worldly due to their personalities but cancer has enhanced their outlooks and they have an instant connection. Hazel is obsessed with a book about a girl with cancer: An Imperial Affliction. One of the reasons for the obsession is the frustrating but powerful way the author stops the novel without finishing it. Hazel is obsessed with knowing what happened to its characters, and she shares the book with Augustus, who also becomes fascinated with the story, thus strengthening their bond. Hazel is angry at the author for leaving his readers hanging but understands it was a literary convention likely signifying the character’s abrupt death. She and Augustus embark on a journey to find the author, who is a recluse no longer living in the United States, so he can give them some closure. The project breathes new life into them both and takes them on a life changing journey (though I won’t give more than that away). Both Hazel and Augustus want to make their mark in this world, and with limited time, this feels like a way for them.
The story is well-written, but I found Augustus to be too good to be true at times. Every teenage girls wants a deep and handsome boy who can throw around the kind of dialogue this character does, but I think his sophistication might have been too much for a young man of 17. Or, perhaps John Green would say that the point was that illness matures you. Where the story floored me was in how the narrative related how Hazel explored in her mind what her parents were going through and what their lives would look like after she, their only child, were gone. Her mother made caring for her a full-time job, but she relents a bit on the overprotective behavior because she is happy that Hazel has a boyfriend and a new lease on life. Hazel is also protective of her parents and how dealing with this illness has been so hard for them—the family dynamic is explored painstakingly well in this novel.
The novel, though about characters who have terminal illnesses and is certainly sad at times, has its share of laugh out loud parts. Green captures these teenagers’ dreams, wit, longing for love, family loyalty, and all around lives very well.