This is a book about some teenagers with cancer, but it is not at all a sob story. Since it is one of the best books I’ve ever read, it is difficult for me to do it justice with a review. I looked at other reviews and they have words and phrases I would use too: exquisite; extraordinary; tough; damn near genius; heart-wrenching; brimming with joy; elegantly plotted; touching valentine to the human spirit; beautiful, shining sentences that you just want to underline in every single colour and cut out and put on the wall and glue onto postcards; freaking amazing….
The book is narrated by Hazel, age 16, who has Stage IV thyroid cancer with lung metastases. She makes two friends at a cancer support group: Isaac, who is going blind, and Augustus, who has an amputated leg from osteosarcoma. In spite of Hazel’s attraction to Augustus, she tries to avoid him, because she feels like a grenade. I.e., it won’t be long before she blows up (that is, dies), and when she does, she doesn’t want to take any more casualties with her than necessary. Letting someone love her, she thinks, is an act of violence against him. But eventually she becomes convinced by Augustus that hurt is inevitable, and that even though you can’t prevent it, you can choose who hurts you.
Discussion: There are many issues raised in this book that are important. (And they are raised with a great deal of humor and sarcasm, so that sober points get made in a way that are all the more effective for being so funny.) Some are obvious yet often ignored, such as the way people with cancer would like to be seen as “people” rather than as “cancer victims,” and how much it hurts to be abandoned by so many others who become uncomfortable around them. Another related point is that cancer doesn’t make those who have it into martyrs and saints; they experience depression and anger and crabbiness just like anyone else. Again, they want to be accepted as “people.”
But the biggest, most recurring theme is that of the complimentary fears of oblivion, and lack of opportunity to experience love and life, and how much it weighs upon these people who are destined by their stars to die young. Augustus in particular is plagued by the notion of oblivion, and Hazel by her desire to find out how things turn out for the people she loves. Together, through an unexpected opportunity, Hazel and Augustus work out their apprehensions, as well as their distress over the “inhuman nihilism of suffering” – not restricted, after all, to those who have cancer.
Generally textuality has limitations, imposing a need to fit ineffable emotional experience inside the reason-heavy framework mandated by conventions of literature. Thus emotion can be disempowered or even neutralized. John Green manages somehow to overcome this barrier. His description of the pain of the loss of a person you love is the best I’ve ever read. You might wonder: why would I want to have such pain made so real? I would answer that if you’ve ever been through it, you’ll appreciate that someone has actually figured out how to articulate it, because the common description of “it was a really bad time” just doesn’t do it!
Evaluation: Everyone who has ever searched for the meaning of life – and in particular, who has queried the significance of his or her own life, should read this eloquent disquisition on the struggle of the human spirit to leave a mark, any mark, that says to the world: I WAS HERE.
Yes, this book demands courage to read it. While there is no facile sentimentality, there is raw sorrow and pain. But even more so, there is a great deal of humor, joy, and love. In a world of books in which you get to choose which ones will hurt you, I would choose this one every time.
Published by Dutton Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., 2012
Thank you so much for the link, Jill! And I love your post too – especially how you highlighted that although the book is about teenagers with cancer, so much of what it discusses is applicable to the experience of being human, period.
Holy cow, what a fantastic review. You’ve made me want to run out and buy that book right now!
I need to buy this one now, you sold me. I haven’t read any John Green book yet.
You know I’ve been thinking I wouldn’t read this because I know it would be too hard for me. But after your review I really think I have to read it. Thanks.
Wow! What an amazing review. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read this one until I read your review.
What a wonderful post! Now I have to buy this!
Wow, Jill, what an awesome review! So well written. You make me want to go get this book right now. Which is what I’m going to do.
I love John Green and think this one sounds extraordinary, though I don’t feel quite up to reading it yet. Having lost an uncle to cancer less than two months ago, I still feel sort of fragile about the whole thing . . . bah. I have no doubt he perfectly captures such raw and complicated grief, though, and am putting it on my future wishlist!
I had to take deep, even breaths just to read your review. It sounds so BIG and sad and wonderful at the same time.
one of the best books you ever read? ever? ok, I am throwing in the towel and going to look for a copy. Ever you say.
Then, I have also had thyroid cancer..happily not with metastases…but obviously Hazel and I will bond.
I loved this book too, and I’ve been wanting to review it, but I haven’t quite gotten my thoughts together. There is so much I want to say. Your review is beautiful and thoughtful, and some of the things you said grabbed my gut, much like the book did. I think everything you wrote in your evaluation is right on target.
*cracks up* I never ever EVER get tired of seeing that Hyperbole and a Half cartoon repurposed in every imaginable way.
I just read An Abundance of Katherines and loved it. I’ve heard so many good things about The Fault in Our Stars that I think that it needs to be my next John Green read!
What a great review! After hearing you endorse this book so much in person I know it’s just a matter of time until I track down a copy and read it.
OK … wow. I guess I need to read this then.
If I cry, it will be all your fault!!
I can’t WAIT to read this one. In fact, I might read it after Cloud Atlas. Just because I can. 🙂 I’m SO glad to read your justified raves.
Because I have yet to read this one I skimmed your review until the final few paragraphs. Green is an amazing author and I’ve loved every single one of his books. My son bought a signed copy of this and I can’t wait to get my hands on it!
I’ve seen other reviews that made me think I might like this one, but it your review that makes me want to read it right now! One of the best books you’ve ever read is a powerful testimony!
This book sounds fascinating and so worth reading. Thank you for such a great review, you totally hooked me on this book. Thanks :o)
I’m going to read Nymeth’s review, too. Thank you, also, for recommending it!
What surprised me was how FUNNY this book is. Laughter: the secret ingredient of the most effective tragedies, the soft rain that penetrates your tarmac so that ice will crack you in half when winter comes.
My full review: http://livingbyfiction.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/the-fault-in-our-stars-john-green-4-5/
Be warned, Looking for Alaska is not nearly as good.
P.S. I just discovered that John Green has a secret site where he answers questions about the book (water metaphors, character names, etc.). It has a password since the site is full of spoilers. http://onlyifyoufinishedtfios.tumblr.com/ (Password: Darnielle)
I am just finishing up my review now, having listened to the audio book…. I agree with you 100% – highly recommend this book truly one of the best I have listened to this year.
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