For Your Library
The Fault is in Our Stars by John Green, Dutton Books, 2012.
This book has been described in reviews as "genius," "luminous," "pitch-perfect," and "compulsively readable." The Atlantic stated, "This book is a book that breaks your heart, not by wearing it down, but by making it bigger and bigger until it bursts." I would add that it is a witty, insightful, unsentimental punch in the gut that sends the reader looking for another John Green novel.
Along with evidently being a first-rate novelist, John Green is also a history teacher - check him out on the Internet with his Crash Course US History and World History videos. In this bestselling novel, Green wrestles with big questions of life and love in a story of teenagers with cancer. The narrator is Hazel who has an incurable cancer whose spread is being held at bay by a new medication. Her condition does include fluid buildup in her lungs, however, and she is constantly tethered to oxygen delivered by nasal cannula. She's a 16 year old only child and both she and her parents are well aware that in the big picture her dying has been just temporarily delayed. Hazel is sharp-tongued and has little tolerance for conventional perspectives of cancer, youth and death which, from her point of view, are too often dishonest, sappy attempts at inspiration and comfort. An example from the first page:
Whenever you read a cancer booklet or website or whatever, they always list depression among the side effects of cancer. But, in fact, depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying. (Cancer is also a side effect of dying. Almost everything is, really).
Hazel is acutely aware of and grateful for her extended time but her social circle has shrunk to mostly her parents who are portrayed as earnest, fallible and caring, even by a teenage storyteller. Her life and horizons are disrupted, however, when she meets Augustus, or Gus, at a teen cancer support group that she reluctantly attends. Gus is a 17 year old boy who has had an above-knee amputation due to osteosarcoma and is no longer in treatment. Both Hazel and Gus reject the expectations others have for them in their roles as cancer patients and the book is much their story of connecting and making as much sense as possible in their sense-defying lives. The other main characters are Isaac, another support group member, whose remaining eye is removed because of a recurrence of his cancer and the fictional novel (within this novel), An Imperial Affliction, and its author Peter Van Houten. Hazel is obsessed with
An Imperial Affliction which tells the story of a teenage girl who dies with leukemia. After sharing the novel with Gus, he is also hooked and impacted. How these characters grow and interact is the story of
The Fault is in Our Stars and to say more about what happens in the story would be to say too much. Suffice it to say that it is well worth the time, thought and emotion involved.
For those who might wonder, here is an excerpt from the "Author's Note" which is consistent with the tone and feel of the book:
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.
This is one of those books that, while fiction, feels fundamentally true.