Despite being told by a bunch of people whose taste I totally trust that I will love John Green, I had never read one of his novels until my book club chose The Fault in Our Stars this month. I had been meaning to read it since The Tournament of Books this year, but it’s really hard to motivate yourself to pick up a book about teenagers with cancer. But I really shouldn’t have waited.
There are two choices when writing about characters with terminal illness. You can write the Lifetime movie version, or you can actively not write the Lifetime version. (Side note: I don’t know why but Lifetime Television for Women seems like it should always be italicized in my mind.) This novel definitely takes the anti-movie of the week stance, but it does become a tear-jerker. If you’re a crier at all you’ll want to read the last sections not in public. I particularly warn against the northbound 22 bus during rush hour on a Friday, just a random example.
The reason I loved this book all comes down to the narrator, Hazel Grace, otherwise known as Just Hazel. She sounds like the best teenage girl in the world, but rather than being the cancer heroine that inspires those around her through constant strength, she is a human being. Green allows her to feel real pain and anger at her fate, and be a real teenager as much as that fate allows. (I was particularly charmed by her America’s Next Top Model viewing habits, who of my generation hasn’t stayed glued to an ANTM marathon even when they know they’ve seen the entire season before?)
I have so much I want to say about the love story between Hazel and Augustus Waters, but I promised Justin and Julia last night that this review wouldn’t have any major spoilers. So instead I’m just going to tell you all to read the book.
One thing that came up at my book club that I would like to address. The few people who genuinely disliked the book, and they did so virulently, made a lot of the fact that no real teenagers talk this way. One, I think there probably are, because (two) these are teenagers who are facing their mortality. They are trying to be both kids and adults at the same time, living life on a really shortened scale. They are, in other words, kids trying to act like the adults they think they will be if they get the chance. So yeah, Gus’s metaphorical “smoking” – hokey, sure. His obsession with metaphor, a bit heavy-handed maybe, but in the end I found it really beautiful. It reminded me a lot of Green’s Author’s Note warning readers against reading the book as a thinly veiled memoir, because made up stories matter. Symbols matter to Augustus, and they matter to me too.