RSS

Monthly Archives: January 2012

“The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green

TEEN LIBRARIAN’S REVIEW:

Cassius:
“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
Julius Caesar (I, ii, 140-141)

John Green is a rock star in the world of YA lit and likely needs no introduction from me. [But, side note: I seriously cannot overstate my love of both “An Abundance of Katherines” and “Will Grayson, Will Grayson,” so maybe it did need some saying!] I was at a Penguin Young Readers preview back in October 2011 when I first heard about “The Fault in Our Stars” (hereinafter, for the sake of my typing, “TFiOS”). Mentioning a new John Green title to a room full of librarians and educators created a bit of a frenzy, as you might imagine; we’re talking sharks with blood in the water, only with books. Penguin placed a strict embargo on “TFiOS,” which was finally released last Tuesday. Y’all, this is a book. Lev Grossman, a legit bestselling author in his own right, labeled “TFiOS” an “instant classic” in a blog post, and I agree wholeheartedly. Just go out and read it, already.

Hrm. Not sufficient, you’re thinking? You need to know more? Fine, I will oblige.

At the most basic level “TFiOS” is a cancer book. But it’s also not, not really. You’ll just have to trust me on this, ok? It’s not morbid or cloying or otherwise uplifting in an icky, artificial way. It is, rather, deeply touching, meaningful, flat-out hysterical, and just so achingly lovely that I kept going back to savor passages again and again. It is a remarkable novel for any genre or audience, let alone as a piece of teen literature.

16 year old Hazel, a pretty average teen living with her folks in Indianapolis, had thyroid cancer that spread to her lungs. Although technically in remission — Hazel survives on an experimental drug — her lungs were so badly damaged that she can only breathe with the aid of an oxygen tank. Hazel dropped out of high school and got her GED when she was gravely ill, although she does take some classes at the local community college. Depressed and sort of isolated, Hazel mostly watches bad television with her mom, reads (and re-reads and re-re-reads) her favorite book, “An Imperial Affliction,” and attends a weekly teen cancer support group at a neighborhood church. Lanky teen Isaac, left with one functioning eyeball after contracting a rare eye cancer, is the only saving grace at these meetings, as he alone seems to share Hazel’s sense of sarcasm and irony at the whole miserable experience. When Isaac brings along his gorgeous, athletic friend Gus, a survivor of a type of bone cancer that resulted in the amputation of his leg, support group suddenly becomes a lot more interesting. Gus is handsome, charming, smart, kinda nerdy / cool, sensitive … you know, typical John Green protagonist. He’s also deeply into Hazel from jump, which, flutter. Even sick girls can fall in love.

At first, Hazel tries to resist Gus’ advances. He’s the very picture of health (er, minus the leg), just so vibrant and athletic. Meanwhile, Hazel, weak and lugging around an oxygen tank, worries that she will be a “grenade,” ultimately exploding in Gus’ life, dying, and wounding him irreparably. But Gus isn’t so easily deterred. He’s into Hazel and knows the risks. Gus uses his old dying kid wish (think Make-A-Wish Foundation) to take Hazel to Holland to visit Peter Van Houten, author of “An Imperial Affliction.” Hazel and Gus are determined to find out what happened to the characters after the novel’s mid-paragraph end, and the reclusive Van Houten, they believe, holds the key. Except, nothing goes as planned, Van Houten is an embittered shrew, and, oh yeah, Hazel and Gus fall totally in love amidst the canals and tulips and just about the most spectacular meal ever created. It’s pretty awesome. Or, as Hazel says, “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

I hate to give away huge plot points, so can we still be friends if I give you a SPOILER ALERT? Because I’m going to do it anyway. Consider yourself warned. Here’s some SPOILER SPACE, just in case you were skimming:
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
*
And here we are. Strong, healthy Gus gets incredibly sick, incredibly quickly. He becomes, for all intents and purposes, the grenade that Hazel so feared she would be. Gus’ cancer, long in remission, unknowingly returns and invades his entire body. Probably the most brilliant portions of “TFiOS” involve Gus’ physical degradation. This isn’t pretty soap opera dying; it’s vomit, pee, confusion, messy dying, and it’s not easy to witness. But it’s always true, which makes Hazel and Gus’ continued, doomed romance all that more authentic and beautiful. I can’t think of a better, funnier, more touching scene than Gus’ “pre-funeral,” in which Isaac and Hazel eulogize Gus while he watches. Hazel begins by discussing infinite sets of numbers and says:

Some infinities are bigger than other infinities. A writer we used to like taught us that. There are days, many of them, when I resent the size of my unbounded set. I want more numbers than I’m likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.”

I told you, it’s a lovely book. I will add that “TFiOS” can be ridiculously, wonderfully funny, as when Isaac and Hazel play voice-activated video games, trying to get the characters to do all manner of filthy things, or the teen support group meets in a church location that the kids call the Literal Heart of Jesus. It’s also full of some pretty sharp social commentary about the celebrity of mourning, including Facebook postings of glorified dead kids, which are so far removed from the ugly reality that they’re almost, sadly, laughable. Throw in fully developed parental figures, admirably complex secondary characters, and a gentle exploration of such larger, philosophical ideas as making an indelible mark on the universe and, somehow, being remembered, and you have a damn good novel.

I loved just about every aspect of “TFiOS” and would gladly recommend it to teen readers (and adult readers!), all genders, really from older middle school and up. There’s some language here and a discreet sex scene, but if you can handle the difficulties of death, then you’re good to go. “TFiOS” is such an unbelievably good novel. I can’t see you being disappointed. Now will you go out and just read it already? :-p

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on January 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,