#6: The Fault in our Stars by John Green
I know, I know: the least shocking addition to this list. The inclusion of John Green’s latest is probably only surprising to those who did not laugh at this article about 2012’s most overlooked books. Seriously – how can a book that got a full page review in Entertainment Weekly and named Best Book of 2012 by Time Magazine be considered overlooked?
Sometimes I forget how small the kid lit/YA lit-o-sphere really is. We are a small portion of the population. We are growing, but still mostly overlooked. In The Fault in Our Stars, Green writes a satisfying, emotionally complex follow-up to three previous satisfying and emotionally complex novels. But he also did something with TFioS and Hazel and all those nerdfighters to capture a bit of the mainstream limelight. That is great. Welcome to the fold, new friends.
To be honest, I am 100% glad that I don’t need to write this post right now, that I have already read and reviewed this book many, many months ago. I am having a tough time thinking about it, a tough time wanting to write about good books – happy or sad – a tough time thinking that this world is a good place. I mean, I know we are all stuck here and need to make the most of it, but you know, there is just so much tragedy. I spent all weekend trying to enjoy a weekend with my future in-laws without fixating on twenty small children and their families, and then my grandmother died. I am headed to Ohio tomorrow, and maybe in a few months I should re-read this book and learn something about grief and life, but for now, I can’t. I can just keep trying to write these barely-reviews and go to work and shop for gifts and keep my head up.
I don’t feel like I am qualified to write a decent “review” of this book because yes, I am a full-fledged John Green fan-girl.
To my credit, I was a fan-girl before it was actually normal to say you were a fan-girl of John Green (iosome people prefer the term “nerdfighter”). No, I was just an adoring college student with a very tiny literary/not-so-literary crush on an author and his work.
But let me tell you this: despite years now of fan-girl-dom, I find that the more I read Green’s books, the more I like them. The more meaning I find within them. The more they stir up my emotions. I first read Looking for Alaska when I was a senior in high school; last summer I read it for the umpteenth time for a class and found myself Crying While Using Public Transportation.
Despite the near-continual hype – the tour bus, the video blogs, the thousands of signed books – Green continues to deliver.
The Fault in Our Stars put my little bit of Looking for Alaska train-boo-hooing to shame. Narrator 16-year-old Hazel has cancer. For three years, she submits to the gamut of painful treatments, comes very close to dying, and transforms from a normal teen to a sick one. She does survive, but only by the benefit of an experimental treatment and constant oxygen supplementation – she’s still frail, but now she’s isolated too. But when her parents force her to attend a kids-with-cancer support group, Hazel meets Augustus – a cute osteosarcoma survivor with a prosthetic leg who sets his sights on Hazel.
They fall in love. They take a trip to Amsterdam to track down Hazel’s favorite reclusive author. They get sicker, they get better, they get sicker, they get better. But even when they get better, there’s always the promise of getting sicker. And if they get sicker, there’s the promise of dying too soon.
Of course, this is also a very sharp, deeply funny novel. It’s not all kids-with-cancer. But what Green captures brilliantly here is that even when your daily life/immediate thoughts are not about suffering and unfairness and the insane brevity of life and death… your life is still about cancer and suffering and unfairness and the insane brevity of life and death. When you are a kid with cancer, these things are just closer to the surface. In many ways, this book reminded me not of other young adult fiction, but of books like Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking; narratives that transcend narrative and become primers for death, grief, and, ultimately, life.
So go read this book and laugh and cry because… yeah. Life. That’s it.