John Green has always been one of my favorite authors. I first became a fan of his when watching the YouTube channel he shares with his brother Hank, the vlogbrothers. At that time, he had two books out, one of which was the (sometimes in)famous Looking For Alaska. I have since read all of his books, though in my mind none were quite as good as Alaska - until I finished The Fault In Our Stars.
I picked it up February 1st ad read it a little bit off and on - between meals, waiting in lines, all of that fun jazz. But last night, with about 150 pages to go, I suddenly could not put it down even if I had wanted to. I stayed up until nearly two in the morning finishing it, because there was just no way I was going to be able to sleep without knowing what happened to Hazel and Augustus.
The book centers around the lives of two main characters - Hazel and Augustus. Hazel is a teenager who has lung cancer - the kind that typically just kills you pretty quickly, but due to some drug testing from an ambitious doctor, it was discovered that a particular pill concoction was actually enough to keep Hazel's issues at bay well enough for her to function, though she always has to have a cannula in as without it, she cannot breathe well enough.
Hazel is dragged to a "cancer support group" sort of a thing that she detests, but it makes her family feel better about her condition, so she goes mostly to humor them and just get out of the house. She is acquaintances with a boy named Isaac who has only one eye due to cancer, and together they form a mutual, mostly unspoken, friendship based entirely on the fact that they both detest this support group. Then, one day, Isaac brings a friend who has beaten cancer to the support group - Augustus. Gus looks at Hazel from across the room and for some reason she becomes smitten as well, and this is where the story really picks up.
Gus is an amputee, he has one real leg and one artificial one. He has been in remission for quite some time and is attending the group to appease Isaac. But that night, he offers to bring Hazel to his family's house to watch a movie (he claims she looks just like Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta and when Hazel says she hasn't see the movie, he drops everything and asks her to come over to fix that immediately). He is very much smitten with her, and she seems to be, too, until he lets it slip that he has but one ex, and when Hazel asks why they broke up, Gus admits that she died.
From then on, Hazel can't quite make herself return Gus's feelings. She is afraid she is a ticking time bomb, she doesn't want to put him through two dead girlfriends when one was more than enough. But Augustus is relentless and caring, and this is the crux of the book: cancer, love, a limited time on earth: it's all there.
This book took my breath away with its frank honesty. John Green is not afraid to "go there" with his books, and he makes sure you know it. He writes Hazel's character with such charm and charisma, and Augustus's as a very persuasive, affectionate young man who just happens to be an amputee. You read this book, and you forget every now and then that Hazel is attached to an oxygen cart, that Gus can't really ever run. You accept them just as people that love each other, and it's only when Hazel mentions something about cancer that you remember.
It is my belief that this book would make a wonderful, beautiful addition to any high school English classroom, especially if someone in the course has been diagnosed with cancer recently. Green talks about cancer and makes it a little less scary, it reminds you that cancer is part of so many people's lives, but it doesn't make them any less of a human being. Green also manages to crack jokes about it through his characters - he takes both a light and dark approach to the topic of cancer and weaves them so expertly that it's a marvelous roller coaster ride of a book.
I think The Fault In Our Stars would be a wonderful book to discuss the effects cancer has on the body, or even in a unit about diversity or just a book about being a teenager. Hazel's struggles partially have to do with her cancer, but they also have everything to do with her just being a high school student. Green did an amazing job with this one, and I highly recommend it more than there are adequate words to describe, so I will steal a line from Mr. Green himself:
“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.”
Title: The Fault In Our Stars
Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Books
Average Amazon Rating: Five stars
My Rating: Five stars