Rare does a book make me so emotional that I need to put it down before finishing it. I made a mistake in deciding to take John Green's The Fault in Our Stars on my UK vacation. Although peppered with comical moments, this is not a flimsy beach read. It's heavy and emotionally draining.
I found myself sobbing through the last couple of chapters as I tried to do some covert late-night reading at a B&B in Scotland. This isn't the type of story that I wanted to have an emotional experience with on the sly. I needed to keep reading to find out how it was going to end, although I was wishing that I was experiencing the novel in the privacy of my own home. Alone.
Green's novel is narrated by Hazel, a teenager with terminal cancer who knows she is living on borrowed time, even though an experimental drug seems to have slowed the growth of her tumors. During a support group meeting for teens with cancer, Hazel meets Augustus, a charismatic teen who is in remission. Augustus woes Hazel through a series of quirky dates and bold romantic gestures, showing her how to really live each day as though it were her last.
I realize that the above paragraph makes this story seem conventional and predictable. It's anything but conventional. The story goes to some strange places, including a Make-a-Wish trip to Amsterdam, so that Hazel can get some questions answered. I never quite knew where the story was going to end up.
Although this is a book involving teenagers, it's not YA Fiction. It's very adult in content. Living under the shadow of mortality, these teens have had to grow up fast. They can be cynical, snarky and hardened. Dying is not romanticised as it often is in YA fiction. The characters in this story are grasping to hold on to life and they are angry. Having been a caretaker for several family members who have died from cancer, the handling of the disease and emotions that it stirs up were spot on which made it so emotional to read.
I find that the best stories have levity to balance the heavy parts. Green includes many light moments to give the tone a good balance and make the characters even more endearing. It is impossible it read this story and not fall in love with both Hazel and Augustus. Hazel's parents were also wonderful characters, loving without being overbearing. You really root for everyone in the story.
Green is a gifted writer, who has a way with words. I often stopped to reread and consider a passage or thought. I don't often read books twice, but this is the type of story that would be completely different based on the age and experience of the reader. I may need to give it another go in ten years.
I loved this book so much, that I started following Green on Facebook and I am now hooked on a daily onslaught of pictures and tidbits from the film version of the story. I am excited, rather than apprehensive, to see the book turned into a film. Green's infections excitement over the film version is catching.
Easily the best book that I have read in a long time.