7.28.2013

what i'm reading: the fault in our stars, a truly great novel for youth and not-youth

I am in the middle of reading The Fault In Our Stars by John Green, a book almost too painful to read but impossible to put down. It's achingly funny, profoundly insightful, and utterly heartbreaking, all at the same time. The Fault In Our Stars is supposedly a youth novel, but please don't let that stop you from reading it. It is simply a wonderful book.

Hazel has cancer, and her life expectancy is short. Augustus is a cancer survivor, and has the prosthetic leg to prove it. Hazel and Augustus, two smart, funny, and otherwise ordinary teenagers, fall in love.

How do you cope with cancer as a teenager? How do you cope with love when you have cancer? How do we humans love when we know that our loved one will one day die? Why are we so helpless when our loved ones are in pain? Hazel and Augustus live through all the universal questions of love and loss, and all the universal questions of adolesence, all at once, and with a pronounced urgency. If that sounds sad, it is. But it's also witty and irreverent and funny, and wonderfully sweet, although never sentimental.

Indeed, The Fault In Our Stars is anti-sentimental: it is something of a fiction version of Bright-Sided, skewering society's standard responses to cancer, especially to sick children. Green digs deeper to expose the guilt, the fears, the isolation, and the other-ness faced daily by young people with illness and disability. I found these moments searing in their accuracy.

At the same time, Green reveals the love and joy that might be otherwise obscured by our sadness and sympathy.

The story is narrated by 16-year-old Hazel, and the voice feels unerringly authentic. Hazel Lancaster joins Roddy Doyle's Paula Spencer as Exhibit A in the Good Writing Knows No Gender proof.

When I put this book on hold at my library, there were more than 200 people waiting to read one of the 30 copies in the system. IMDB tells me that the movie adaptation will be released next year. I hope John Green makes a big pile of money and continues to write such masterpieces.

13 comments:

laura k said...

Note to Amy: The city of Amsterdam figures prominently in this book. I thought of you. :)

Stephanie said...

Thought I would enjoy this book on our Algonquin trip. I looked for it in our public library and all copies are out or on hold. Interestingly the public library suggests consulting the University's library system (link provided), so I did, and there is a copy available. It is also out at the moment plus a hold. I've requested it anyway and hope to get it in time for our trip!

Thanks.

laura k said...

Steph, if you do end up reading it, let me know what you think?

I didn't know university libraries had fiction collections!

Stephanie said...

Like you, I had no idea that the University library would have fiction but there it is!

I will definitely let you know how I enjoy it (provided I get it in time).

laura k said...

I thought of my only criticism of this book. After the first third or so, I can't read it in public because I always end up crying.

Stephanie said...

Oh no...I guess I can always hide out in the tent. :D

Amy said...

Thanks, Laura. It sounds very powerful, maybe too upsetting for me to deal with. I know how that sounds, but we all have things that we cannot read. For me, one of those things is sick children. Along with sad animal stories and violent movies. Just too much for me.

But thanks for thinking of me! (My kids just arrived for the week, including Nate, so I am probably even more sensitive to this right now.)

laura k said...

No worries about "how it sounds," we've all got those, as you say.

This book is much more about joy and love than about sickness - but it's also more about death than sickness, too. It deals more with death than with cancer.

Plenty of other things to read... :)

James Redekop said...

John and his brother Hank are also a major force on YouTube, the Vlogbrothers. Among other things, they created Crash Course, a series of lecture series on various subjects (John's done World History, Literature, and is currently on US History; Hank's done Biology and is currently on Chemistry) which are excellent. Highly recommended.

Hank also created The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, a retelling of Pride and Prejudice in vlog form.

They've just created a new website called Subbable, which lets you pay whatever you want to subscribe to video channels, to help support their production. Crash Course is the only thing up so far, but it's worthwhile.

If you follow the Vlogbrothers channel, you'll get occasional updates on the TFiOS film production, though John's currently mostly absent at the moment as he & his wife just had a new child...

laura k said...

John and his brother Hank are also a major force on YouTube, the Vlogbrothers.

Yes indeed, as the author's bio on the hard copy of the book points out. Thanks for filling that in and supplying links!

James Redekop said...

I forgot to mention, Hank also did Crash Course Ecology.

Stephanie said...

FYI got the book from the University library yesterday. Perfect timing, we leave for Algonquin this week.

laura k said...

Have a great trip! And a good cry. ;)