Hazel is a 16-year-old girl with Stage IV thyroid cancer, who thanks to a new, experimental drug, has been able to get her tumors reduced to a manageable size. She doesn’t go to school and her best friend is her mom. Cue Augustus Waters, a gorgeous boy in remission that Hazel meets at a cancer support group. Unexpectedly, they both make each other see everything in very different lights.
As everyone knows, I love John Green’s books. John (I feel I can call him John instead of Green, or Mr. Green. We’re buds.) posts weekly videos on Youtube with his brother Hank, and they’re awesome. They talk science, politics, giraffe sex, literature, history, and all those things that come with being a person. When I read a book, the author is a sort of vague, mysterious and elusive superior entity I have no acquaintance with. I usually don’t even know what they look like, and don’t really want to. John is a bit different. Since I see him talking to me on my computer, I feel like I know him, and his writing just feels a tad more personal.
For a few months now, John has slowly been sharing the progress of writing and publishing (and signing) his new book. This was the first release of one of his books I have actually followed from beginning to end, so I feel like this is every bit mine as it is his. I loved reading it and going all “I remember when he referenced this in a video!” and “I’m so glad I read The Great Gatsby
before reading this!” and even “Ooooh, so that’s where the Magritte comes in.”
But this isn’t a review of John or even Nerdfighteria, it’s a review of The Fault in Our Stars
. It’s hilarious and sad and very, very good. This is also the first book I’ve finished in 2012, and I’m just going to go ahead and not read anything else, because everything will pale in comparison.
Apart from the brilliant writing, which we all know will be quoted for all eternity on Tumblr, there is sort of this underlying idea that has been gnawing at my brain for a while now: How do you make yourself remembered? This is a question that I feel John has tried to answer in his previous book An Abundance of Katherines
and, to a certain extent, in all of his books. This makes me feel a bit better, because it’s nice knowing a responsible adult who seemingly has things figured out, doesn’t really have them completely figured out. His books came to me in the most perfect time possible. I’d left the awkward teenage phase, and was starting to enter the “I’m going to college next year, better get my act together and start thinking critically” phase.
It’s both amazing and awful to realize there is more to the world than just your navel, and terrifying to feel you’re just another high school student stuck in the same place. We all struggle with this notion, in some way or another, and it’s nice reading The Fault in our Stars and knowing that it is fine if you die without having conquered the modern equivalent of the Roman empire.
Amsterdam! Oh, the Amsterdam section! I love Amsterdam. I’ve only been there once, for 3 days, just like Hazel and Augustus, and it’s magical. I felt insanely nostalgic whenever I watched John’s videos in Amsterdam, because it’s one of my favourite cities in the world and I think John captured it really well. It just has this sort of magic that cannot be explained merely through words. I think it’s all the water. (John, I love all the water references, it reminded of Gatsby
and Howards End
, well done.).
Hazel, our protagonist, is a girl. None of John’s previous books had a female leading character. I think John got it perfectly. Sometimes, there are all these Important Things going all around you, and you just care about the fact a boy touched your face. Sometimes you get really self-conscious about your clothes even though it almost never matters. I get you, Hazel, I get you.
There’s also the cancer thing going through this book. I’ve seen terminally ill, and I was half-expecting this book to be all “heroic cancer victims fought bravely” and “loving family supported them to the end”. I'm glad I didn't. People turn into assholes sometimes, because people are people and they are not their metastasized cancer. There is a latent feeling of death throughout this book, and frankly, it’s a bit heartbreaking. I don’t think I’ve cried this hard reading a book since I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
. In 2007. I’ve read a great deal of books in the meantime, some of them quite exceptional. But yes, I cried, and I cried for Hazel and Augustus but also for Esther and for people I’d known but who are gone and for whom I’d never cried, for people I don’t know, for people I will know, and I guess I cried a bit for myself, not because I’m sick, but because I’m dying and also because it’s alright not to change the world.
Read from January 16th to January 17th, 2011.