Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Books
Date published: January 10, 2012
Number of pages: 313
What’s it about?
Hazel Grace Lancaster, a terminally ill cancer patient is coerced by her mother into attending a support group for youth where she meets and eventually falls in love with cancer survivor Augustus Waters.
I actually had to read this book twice before I could sit down and write about it. Not because it’s bad (because it most definitely isn’t bad, unless we’re using the Ebonics form of ‘bad’ which then suggests something is in fact good in which case this book is incredibly bad.) I fell in love with this story and both Hazel and Augustus so deeply that I didn’t think I could actually put into words how I was feeling. It’s a difficult book to define, part philosophical journey, part tragic romance yet filled with unbelievable hilarity The Fault in Our Stars is a book you can read over and over again – and never get bored of.
Part of what is so striking about The Fault in our Stars is how well Green portrays teenage angst – and how he does so with unbelievable humour and warmth. Augustus’ obsession with having a meaningful life – being a hero, combined with his astonishing sense of ennui (the existentially fraught free throws) kind of sums up being a teenager. And yet because both characters have had to face their own mortality – their maturity, the level of intelligence and wit these characters display allows them to acknowledge their suffering without allowing it to control them.
But let’s just talk about Augustus Waters for a minute. First of all Augustus Waters – why is that one of the greatest literary names ever? Furthermore, he’s kind of totally swoon-worthy. Self-assured, intelligent, thoughtful, kind and funny, Gus is a nice change of pace from all the bad-boys-with-a-heart-of-gold-that-they-have-to-hide-because-they-need-to-be-tough that seem to currently permeate YA novels (Jace Wayland, Will Herondale, Patch in the Hush Hush series, Four – not that they’re not swoon-worthy in their own right.) It’s just that Gus is normal yet extraordinary. Everything he does is just a little amazing because of how he does it; he displays a sense of selflessness that’s not generally expected of 17-year-old boys. This quality isn’t something that only comes out with Hazel; his entire relationship with Isaac demonstrates Gus’ kindness and understanding (not to mention his slightly perverse sense of humour.) The ‘night of the broken trophy’s’ as Hazel calls it and the egging of Isaac’s ex-girlfriends house (done while at the height of Gus’ illness) are just some of the examples that come to mind.
There’s also the fact that despite the serious disappointment that Van Houten proves to be, Gus continues to write to him, asking for help with his eulogy for Hazel and demanding he answer her questions – further demonstrating the extraordinary thoughtfulness and love Gus possesses.
What really grabs you with this story is how bittersweet it is – you always know it will end sadly, the entire book kind of prepares you for it. But Green takes you on this journey, he leads you through the process of dealing with mortality and the inevitable and he does it in a way that is neither condescending nor pathetic. You watch these characters as they live their lives with the burden of cancer and marvel at the humanness, the fight, the hope and despair – that Green creates, all done with so much flair and humour – real humour – not forced, it’s all so natural. The conversations between Hazel and Augustus are believable – you could imagine having those same conversations with your own friends. The progression of their relationship and the feelings of fear and frustration Hazel feels, Gus’ persistence in pursuing her and the inevitable heartbreak that comes with his death – make this story seem so much bigger than your average YA novel but quite frankly, that’s what makes this book so charming and real. It’s the underlying sadness coupled with the distinct voices Green saddles his characters with that makes The Fault in Our Stars such a standout story.