Ever since her diagnosis at age 13, Hazel Grace Lancaster’s cancer has always been terminal. Two years later and with tumors now in her lungs, Hazel was ready to die before a miracle drug stabilized her condition, giving her a new lease on life, at least for the time being. Now besides being out of the hospital and not dying, her life hasn’t changed that much. At 16 Hazel still doesn’t miss an America’s Next Top Model marathon, leave the house except for classes at the community college, or have more than three friends (her parents and an author she’s never met). Most of all her oxygen tank – a constant reminder of her illness – will never leave her side. Naturally, it’s understandable that the cancer support group her mother insists she attend is the last place she’d choose to go. But Hazel never could’ve guessed that she’d meet tall, good-looking, and metaphorically-prone Augustus Waters, and that Augustus, a survivor of osteosarcoma himself, would be interested in her. Quickly becoming friends, Hazel and Augustus will do anything from reading the others’ favorite book to challenging each others’ deeply-held views on life and death, leaving them irrevocably changed, for better or for worse.
Besides knowing the interest-drawing title and seeing the beautifully graphic cover, I knew very little about John Green’s newest novel, and in retrospect, I’m glad. It made the fact that The Fault in Our Stars was written from a female’s perspective without precedent for Green a very welcome and happy surprise. Likewise, not knowing beforehand that the main characters had cancer allowed me to go into the read with no labels or stigmas attached. What having cancer has done for the characters is given them a vehicle through which they can reflect on the universal themes of life and death. And as in true John Green style, Hazel and Augustus have done so in impeccably humorous and clever ways leaving the reader smarter, not only in facts but in insight and ideas.
The first and perhaps only coherent thing I can say is that The Fault in Our Stars is my kind of John Green. Forever torn between the lightness of An Abundance of Katherines and the poignancy of Looking for Alaska, he’s conveniently combined the two loves so I don’t have to choose between them. If that wasn’t enough instead of using his usual yet effective formula of geeky guy with quirky best friend wants unattainable girl, The Fault in Our Stars is told from the perspective of a girl who is neither particularly nerdy or popular and who likes a guy who is completely and willingly attainable from the moment they first meet. With the potential recurrences of cancer as their only real obstacle, Hazel and Augustus fall fast and hard for one another, an aspect of their romance about which I was certainly not complaining. A favorite exchange between Hazel and Augustus from early on:
I put the car in park and looked over at him. He really was beautiful. I know boys aren’t supposed to be, but he was.
“Hazel Grace,” he said, my name new and better in his voice. “It has been a real pleasure to meet your acquaintance.”
“Ditto Mr. Waters,” I said. I felt shy looking at him. I could not match the intensity of his waterblue eyes.
“May I see you again?” he asked. There was an endearing nervousness in his voice.
I smiled. “Sure.”
“Tomorrow?” he asked.
“Patience, grasshopper,” I counseled. “You don’t want to seem overeager.”
“Right, that’s why I said tomorrow,” he said. “I want to see you again tonight. But I’m willing to wait all night and much of tomorrow.” I rolled my eyes. “I’m serious,” he said.
“You don’t even know me,” I said. I grabbed the book from the center console. “How about I call you when I finish this?”
“But you don’t even have my phone number?”
“I strongly suspect you wrote it in the book.”
He broke out into that goofy smile. “And you say we don’t know each other.”
In addition to their endearing wit, Augustus’ friend Isaac, who has lost both eyes to cancer, also adds lightness to the heavy material. I enjoyed all of the cheesy blind puns, the seeing impaired video game mocking, and laugh-out-loud scenes like the car egging. Most of all though I loved Hazel and Augustus, who are both book and life smart, kind, incredibly real, and authentically flawed. Their relationship is sweet, addicting, and at times heart-wrenching. You’ll want everything they can have and everything they cannot have for them. Sobbing and smiling throughout, I found The Fault in Our Stars impossible to put down until I finished its’ near flawless last pages. Perhaps John Green’s best book yet, it’s a breath of fresh air in both his works and YA contemporary novels on grief and illness in general. It’s certainly my favorite of his novels, and after rereading much of it in preparation for this review without anticipating doing so I look forward to rereads to come.
The Fault in Our Stars comes out today.