Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is a book about teenagers with cancer. Hopefully that gives you an indication that it's not the cheeriest of books and, perhaps, you should have some tissues at hand when you read it.

The main character, Hazel, is sixteen and terminal. She almost died when she was fourteen, but then an experimental treatment worked and has been keeping the tumours in her lungs from growing ever since. She's still terminal, but she doesn't have a time frame. And because, as she says, her lungs suck at being lungs, she has to wheel a little cylinder of oxygen around with her everywhere she goes and can't really do anything physically exerting.

At a cancer kids support group (which her parents make her attend under sufferance) she meets Augustus, a friend of her only support group friend, who quickly becomes her love interest.

I really enjoyed reading the interactions between Hazel and Augustus. They talk and joke to each other a bit pretentiously, like smart kids sometimes do, and it was refreshing. They talk about books, death and quote poetry at each other. And Hazel tries not to get too entangled with Augustus because she knows she's terminal and doesn't want to put him through losing her as a girlfriend. This is a pretty good summary of Hazel's character as she also spends a lot of time worrying about what will happen to her parents after she's gone, especially her mother, whose life currently revolves around looking after her sick daughter.

The bulk of the novel is about Hazel and Augustus's growing relationship, its consequences and, of course, cancer and death.

The remainder of this review contains a minor spoilers as there are more aspects I wish to discuss, but can't otherwise. If you're concerned, I suggest skipping to the last paragraph before my star rating.

Hazel shares her favourite book with Augustus — about a teenage girl with cancer, which ends suddenly as though the main character died before she could finish writing it. And the book becomes a central fixture of their relationship. Hazel desperately wants to know what happened to the other characters in the book, particularly the main character's mother, school friends and hamster. When Augustus tracks down the reclusive author, his somewhat bleak correspondences bring the couple closer together.

I liked what Green did by including the book with no ending. I briefly worried that he was setting the reader up to be less disappointed by his own planned non-ending (since The Fault in Our Stars is written in first person), but as the story progressed I realised it was an implicit promise to the reader not to do the same thing. Although the book ends before Hazel dies we have been assured as to the fate of her parents, unlike the mother in Hazel's favourite book. Her concert for the fictional mother highlights again Hazel's general worries for the people left behind. Once she comes to terms with the fact that her very existence is not the worst thing to happen to her parents (although her cancer probably is), she also stops needing to know the fate of the fictional character. One of the ultimate messages of The Fault in Our Stars is that loss does not negate the value of what came before it. Sick children can die, but that doesn't mean they don't deserve to be loved nor that those who love them wish they didn't. Another important theme, which I think many people broadly can empathise with, is that just because one is sick or dying or frequently in pain, doesn't make one less human nor ones thoughts less important.

The Fault in Our Stars is an excellent and heartbreaking read. I recommend it to all readers, although I suspect adults with children might find it more affecting than, well, healthy teenagers. This book has caused quite a stir in the YA blogosphere and I've had it on my goodreads want shelf for a little while. I'm glad I got the chance to read it sooner rather than later.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: January 2012, Penguin Australia
Series: Hah, no.
Format read: e-review copy. (Actually this is the first time I've read a PDF on my Kobo. I was expecting a worse experience although it wasn't awesome.)
Source: Publisher via NetGalley (I believe it's a promotion for the one year book-o-versary)

1 comment:

  1. When i read looking for alaska i thought wow it doesn't get any better than this but boy was i wrong. john green has written an extremely insightful and moving story. It is probably the best YA book i have read and definitely top 20 of all time.
    Thank you john and DFTBA