Saturday, January 28, 2012

Review: The Fault in our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Description (courtesy of

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.

I had heard about this novel from someone I follow on Twitter who had hyped it quite a bit.  I normally am allergic to hype and tend to run the other way when something is proclaimed as A Book You Must Read.  This applies to films, plays, musicals, most things, really.  You may wonder, then, why I picked up this book.  Simply put, I trust writers.  Twitter allows me to interact with other writers and I"ve yet to be steered wrong when a fellow writer has recommended a book, either directly to me or to the masses.

Although the book gets off to a great start with Hazel Grace as an endearing narrator and her family as believable people who have been to hell and back, I struggled a little bit in reading this.  I think this was partly because I knew it was about a young girl with cancer.  I think in the back of my mind I was afraid of how real this book might get.  Despite, or perhaps as a result of Hazel being a funny narrator who's making the best of her situation, I worried how bad things might get.

Everything did not turn up roses for everyone in the end, but I thought that John Green did an amazing job of maintaining an appropriate distance between the reader and the most intimate details of living with (or dying from) cancer.  His prose is effective without being gruesome, so that you get just enough of an impression to feel for the characters without it getting grizzly and/or uncomfortable.

I think this is a fantastic book.  John Green did an exemplary job of bringing characters to life and gave them obstacles that, regardless of the outcome, they could not shirk from.  As a reader, I cheered their successes, rallied in their respective corners during their setbacks, and grieved for their losses.

In an interesting coincidence, at the end, when I could see whole picture, this novel reminded me of something Ann Lamott related in Bird by Bird (which I reviewed here).

Ms. Lamott was relating the story of how, six months before her friend Pammy passed away due to cancer or related illness, she had called a doctor looking for what she called "a positive spin on some depressing developments."  The doctor, she says, was unable to provide solace, but instead gave advice.  "Watch her very carefully right now," the doctor said, "because she's teaching you how to live."

Through the stories of Hazel, Augustus Waters, Isaac, their families, and friends, John Green delivers a sobering but, ultimately, uplifting story about young people with the deck stacked against them, battling to survive, armed with the understanding of what's truly important in life.

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