Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars

Author: John Green

Publisher: Dutton (Penguin)
Editor: Julie Strauss-Gabel
Agent: Jodi Reamer
Released: January 10, 2012
Genre: YA Contemporary
Series: No
Source: Library
Challenge: None
Hazel is terminally ill. She is going to die. But when her mother forces her to go to Cancer Kid Support Group, she meets Augustus, and her brief life changes as she experiences love and life for the first time. Together, Hazel and Augustus take a look at what life means and what they should do about it. In their own "weird" way - to quote their dads - they seize what time they have left and change it to fit their view of how things should be.
So it took me a while to jump on the bandwagon and read this book. I have this strange instinct not to read books that critics rave about in a serious way. Maybe because I think I'll be disappointed. Boy, was I not!

Hazel and Augustus are both really likable characters. Yes, they're weird. But in the best way possible, in a way that takes a horrible thing like terminal cancer and makes it secondary to the life they're living now, to the pressing, important issues that completely overshadow cancer - like what happens to the hamster in An Imperial Affliction. Because how could Hazel die without knowing that? By the way - Sisyphus as a name for a hamster? Brilliant. But seriously - if not for the constant reminder of Hazel's tubes and Augustus's leg, I might have forgotten at some points that these are sick teens. Which is kind of the point. 

Right from the start, it's obvious that Hazel is frustrated at how the cancer took hold of her life and dominates every move she makes, and every decision her family makes. So when she begins living a life where cancer is peripheral, when she lets herself love and doesn't worry - too much - about how having cancer fits with having a boyfriend, it changes everything. Her mother is happy about it - though why she pulled Hazel out of school when she just wants her to continue having normal interactions with people is beyond me. That's not a criticism of the author. To the contrary, I think it sounds perfectly realistic, and it made me think about how people react to illness. Hazel's mom is so afraid of things that she reacts that way, but when Hazel starts changing things, her mom does too.

For me, there were two parts to the book. The first, more obvious, part is the exploration of how people deal with illness and death. There's a large enough cast of characters besides Hazel and Augustus's families that we get to see more than a few reactions. And the book is just peppered with pithy comments and observations about life, about death, about humanity's place in the universe. But the other part that I connected to just as much is the exploration of what a book is, what a novelist is. Green prefaces the novel with this:

"This is not so much an author's note as an author's reminder of what was printed in small type a few pages ago: This book is a work of fiction. I made it up.
Neither novels nor their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species.
I appreciate your cooperation in this matter."
And then Hazel is obsessed with finding out what happens to the characters after the end of An Imperial Affliction. And the way that turns out seems to be a comment on the essence of novels and novelists, following from this preface. I love how Hazel's quest to find out the ending turns out. It winds up affecting both parts of the book, the exploration of novels as well as the exploration of death and dying.

With all its serious subject matter, The Fault in Our Stars manages to be - not exactly fun, but close to it. Definitely it has some laugh-out-loud moments. And some teary ones, but they're balanced. It's a beautiful love story, in the larger sense of love.

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