Although…there are people like me who sometimes like spoilers! So I did the twisted thing and went and read about the story on Wikipedia first–simply because I was curious “What the heck is with this book that everyone is raving about?” Yep. Guilty. Then I discovered that the Kindle edition was only $5 and started reading. 24 hours, and one sleep-deprived night later, I was finished.
But I will assure you that whether you know the plot or not, the journey to that destination is worth your time.
The basics: Cancer-stricken teenagers Hazel and Augustus meet in a support group. Hazel is highly intelligent with a side order of charm and Augustus is highly charming with a side order of intelligence. And so their story begins as the book tries to answer the question we should all ask ourselves: to what extent will I allow my crappy experiences to dominate me?
Because we all have terrible, unfair things happen to us. Whether or not we become a victim of those circumstances is, of course, a choice.
John Green, the author, also does what all young adult authors should do, which is to make his characters a little more mature than most teenagers. Mature, but not arrogant. (Not to diss teenagers, but to point out that he treats his teenage readers as intelligent beings.) And you get the impression that Hazel and Gus would be like this even without cancer–because cancer does not give you maturity–but it does force these young people to confront their mortality earlier than most. In addition, these are also teens who have genuinely good relationships with their parents, both sets who are happily married. Yes, it happens!
Green does something else, too. He successfully gets inside the head of a young girl. Just like Hazel has a favorite author who, she feels, describes her cancer and death though he hasn’t died, Green does the same with Hazel without having been a teenage girl. As a former teenager with a favorite author at that age, Hazel’s insecurities, fears, and general feelings are pretty spot on.
Speaking of spot on, I’m going to segue to the film, which I saw tonight. The makers of The Fault in Our Stars (the film) had to know that many readers would be eager to see how Hazel and Gus would transfer to film. Too much leeway with the story would enrage them, and rightly so. Fortunately, the author was on the set, the actors read the novel beforehand, and both young people go above and beyond to embody Hazel and Gus in amazing performances (really, some of the best I’ve seen.) The film cuts out a couple of peripheral characters, but stays true to the story in other ways. (I do wish the “swing-set story” was given more time, though.)
If I had to make one criticism about the book and the film, it would be the Van Houten character. On the page I thought he was way over the top. An annoying parenthesis in an, otherwise, lovely sentence. On the screen I felt the character was miscast (Gary Oldman would’ve gotten my vote,) but everything else about the film was just the way I pictured it as I read the book.
If you are someone who wants to read about healthy love among two unhealthy people, then this is a story you’ll enjoy. Sentiment, but without sentimentality. What do I mean by “healthy love?” A love between equal partners who genuinely like and respect each other, where they take turns saving each other, and where there is unconditional acceptance. We should all be so lucky.
9 out of 10 stars