John Green again. You DID say that you were probably going to read all of his books pretty soon. You've already reviewed "An Abundance of Katherines," so don't buy it again (this is a problem area for you). "The Fault in Our Stars is Green's newest novel. The narrator and main character is Hazel, and Hazel has cancer. Hazel is sixteen and she has terminal cancer. The fact that you don't want to give away spoilers is going to make this review tough to write, but it's pretty safe to remind you that you cried many a tear while reading this book. You liked the book a lot, but you kind of cried your ass off.
One of the great things about novels is the variety in how they are written. Each novel can have a very different voice and style. History books pretty much have to be written in the third person, but the authors of novels can play around with their style and crawl inside people's heads. George R.R. Martin writes each chapter in the "Games of Thrones" series (A Song of Fire and Ice) from a different person's point of view, though not with a First Person voice. Suzanne Collins wrote The "Hunger Games" series in First Person, Present Tense, which you found made putting her books down very difficult. "The Fault in Our Stars" is also First Person, though not Present Tense. This style of writing feels very intimate, like Hazel is talking to herself almost, and you get to choose to either eavesdrop on her inner monologue, or actually get to become her inside the pages of the book. There have been many examples of Young Adult fiction where a female author writes from a male character's perspective (think "Harry Potter") but this is the first you've heard of a male writing as a female. John Green pulls this off beautifully. How a goofy, 30-something, computer-nerd, dad can convincingly write from the point of view of a 16-year old female cancer patient is truly a testament to the human capacity for imagination and empathy. But he does it well, and Hazel is believable and intelligent and very likeable. As with all good writing, the novelty of the style soon falls away and all you are left with is a wonderfully rich and compelling character, someone you would want to spend time with.
As the story unfolds, it reveals an unflinching look into the life of a young cancer patient, a young woman who is struggling with her mortality while fighting to keep her sense of humor. Hazel is matter of fact about her diagnosis, but she does on occasion reach out to one of her old (pre-cancer) friends, Kaitlyn, for advice, but really to grasp a lifeline back to the world of being a teenager without a death sentence hanging over her head. Hazel often drops pearls of wisdom that resonated with you, and several quotes stood out. Whether or not they come from Hazel herself, they are all filtered through her perception.
"I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed. And who am I, living in the middle of history, to tell the universe that it-or my observation of it-is temporary?"
"Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin."
“That's the thing about pain...it demands to be felt.”
“My thoughts are stars I can’t fathom into constellations.”
That last quote is from Augustus Waters. Hazel meets Augustus early on in the story at a Cancer survivor support group meeting, and they get along like gangbusters. She falls in love with him pretty quickly, but not before you did. Augustus is funny, irreverent, smart, and endlessly hopeful. "The Fault in Our Stars" is about the relationship between Hazel and Augustus, how they are changed by it and how they learn to be grateful for the limited time that they know they have together. The couple spur each other on to more and more irreverent reactions to the walking-on-eggshells behavior that people tend to fall into around sick and handicapped kids (Augustus lost a leg to cancer). Some of the funniest moments in the book are when they console their friends who are going through their own dignity-stripping adventures in their fight against cancer. Evidently, no John Green novel is complete until the characters take a trip to somewhere, because these moments of great honesty and humor bring the couple closer and also inspire them to take a once in a lifetime trip together.
In fact, almost everything they do might be described as "once in a lifetime." Death is a guarantee in this book. You knew, as soon as you read the first page, that not everyone was going to make it to the last one. But that is one of the points of the book. These kids know that Death could be just around the next corner, so they feel like they need to drink in every moment, laugh at every opportunity, and suffer very little in the way of bullshit. But Death is a guarantee for all of us, not just those who are diagnosed with some fatal disease. After all, Life itself is a communicable disease, and it's 100% fatal. So shouldn't we all be behaving like Hazel and Gus? Shouldn't we all seek answers to our questions with an urgency motivated by the knowledge that if we wait too long, we may never get the answer? Shouldn't we all love deeply enough that we won't regret it on our death beds? Shouldn't we all remember that guarding ourselves from pain is ultimately a foolish and destructive act? Pain and loss make us who we are, and we only have a short time to figure out who that is.
But, even so, what gives "The Fault in Our Stars" its poignancy is that Death just feels wrong here. The people in the book are kids! They are supposed to feel invincible not fleeting, eternal not ephemeral. Sure the Sword of Damocles hangs over us all, you get that, but it feels wrong when it involves children.
You were almost done with the book (which means you were doing a lot of crying) on the day that news reports began rolling in that the unthinkable had happened in Newtown, Connecticut. A sick gunman had entered an elementary school and murdered 20 First Grade children along with six adult teachers and administrators. No novel can make that disaster make any sense. No message from a fictional dying child can explain to you why very real monsters exist in the world or why they sometimes go after very real children. But "The Fault in Our Stars" did encourage you to remember to value every moment that you have with your kids and to love them fiercely. Hopefully you and they will live long and happy lives together, but there are no guarantees, and the temporary nature of our lives is what gives them such immediacy and such importance. Love is what matters the most, because love is able to give us, to quote Hazel, "Forever within the numbered days." And for that forever we, like Hazel, should be very grateful.
On to the next book!