The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
Diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at 12, Hazel was prepared to die until, at 14, a medical miracle shrunk the tumours in her lungs… for now. Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means) Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault. Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly, to her interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.
This is definitely an incredibly difficult review to write, because I know that whatever I say will never do this novel justice. I’ve read very little of John Green’s work before, in fact I’ve only ever read Looking For Alaska, and yes it was great and I raved about it for a day or so, but nothing could have prepared me for just how truly brilliant his next novel would be. I have never in my life had such an emotional reaction to a book – not only in terms of tears, but in terms of laughter as well. Some of you may cower at the thought of reading a book about kids with cancer, and admittedly I did so myself at first, but this is a book about kids with cancer, written in a way you will never have read before, and are unlikely to read again. If I could urge you to read one book this year, it would undoubtedly be The Fault In Our Stars.
Hazel was diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at the age of twelve. Two years later, she was getting ready to die, until a miracle test drug mysteriously shrunk the tumours in her lungs, for now at least. There is no telling when they will grow back, she is the only test subject of her kind, all the other children had their tumours grow back exceedingly quickly. Hazel is a miracle, but that still doesn’t make life easy for her. She is hooked up to an oxygen tank every day, and has to carry it with her everywhere she goes. She can’t over-exert herself, in case her lungs fill with fluid. And worst of all, she is forced to attend a cancer support group, where they are forced to chant seemingly meaningless declarations of ‘living our best life today’, and where the numbers diminish month by month. But it is there, at support group, where she meets the weird and wonderful Augustus Waters. Augustus is in remission after having to have a leg amputated, and Hazel is quick to succumb to his charms. The two form a very special relationship that will ultimately change their lives as they know it. Now they have something to live for, but the question is, is it fair to let someone fall in love with you when you know you’re going to die?
The thing that will grab you straight away when reading The Fault In Our Stars, is just how truly wonderful the characters of Hazel and Augustus are. You will be afraid to love them, but love them you will. In many ways, John Green is ultimately putting the reader in the same situation as his characters, of being afraid to love someone who you know is going to die. The only difference is that throughout most of the novel, I had an unwavering sense of hope for these two people that refused to give way. They had to live, and they had to fall in love and live happily ever after. I would refuse any alternative.
Hazel is an incredibly likeable character. She has suffered from cancer throughout a good deal of her childhood, and by age seventeen she certainly knows the ins and outs of it. She’s bored of the support groups, and the empty chants, she’s well aware of what its like to get ‘cancer perks’ – things that wouldn’t normally be allowed, but because you suffer from cancer, it’s okay. She knows what its like when young people die, and every acquaintance that person has ever known suddenly leaves messages on their Facebook wall, retelling what little memories they have of them, and how he/she was such a great person. John Green tells it how it is, and that’s the most shocking thing of all, but also the funniest. There are so many laugh-out-loud moments in this book, and it’s funny because Green has just hit the nail on the head. This really is what it’s like to have a terminal illness in today’s society, and Green doesn’t shy away from it in any way. The truth is, Hazel may find the support group boring, but she knows that these people are the only people in her world that know what it’s really like. Her parents and even her best friend will never truly understand what its like to live with a disease. It is down to Isaac, the boy who’s lost one eye and is about to lose another, and Augustus with his one leg, to keep Hazel grounded in the reality of it all.
Augustus is like a breath of fresh air. He is quirky beyond belief, exciting and utterly loveable. He knows what he wants out of life, and isn’t afraid to stare death in the face as he keeps an unlit cigarette in his mouth most of the time. He is someone that Hazel can talk frankly with, never shying away from what their lives are really like. Together, they make the best couple I’ve seen in YA fiction in a long time. John Green’s use of dialogue between the two is incredibly sharp and witty, almost like something straight out the movie, Juno, but better. Even Hazel’s dialogue between herself and her parents is spot on. Hazel’s parents clearly love her unconditionally, and it’s easy to see just how hard it is for them both to accept that their only daughter will die, and that between them both, they carefully watch her every move. But there is a particular passage that made me a huge emotional and personal impact on me, and that I haven’t forgotten since, and that’s when Hazel’s mum whispers to her husband “I won’t be a mom anymore.” I found this incredibly hard to take, and it really struck a chord with me as I haven’t seen my own mother in four years. It made me think a lot about what it means to be a parent, and how it feels to lose a relationship that you thought you would have for the rest of your life, a life that you dreamed an entire future for, together. It dragged up a lot of memories for me that I haven’t quite been able to lay to rest since. But I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to lose a child, but to lose your only child has to be that much worse. I think this book will have a personal impact on anyone who reads it – whether you’ve lost a child, a parent, a relative, a friend in any shape or form. You will connect to it in your own way, and that is what makes this book so incredibly special. It’s John Green’s sharp, witty and above all honest writing in this novel, that makes it what it is, and it really is true perfection. It seems obvious to me that John Green must have experienced the loss of a loved one himself and that a lot of his own emotions are invested in this novel.
I honestly cannot criticise this novel in any shape or form. It has become one of my favourite books of all time, and I know I am never going to part with it. Whilst reading it, I often thought at times, of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, which also deals with the loss of a parent through cancer. I keep thinking back to it, and remembering being tearful, but no where near as emotional as I feel towards The Fault In Our Stars, and this is where I think the idea of hope plays a part again. I truly had all the hope in the world for these two young people, and nothing could possibly make me lose it, but when it came to A Monster Calls, despite it being unbelievably sad in its own right, it was all rather set in stone – you knew the boy’s mother would die, and there was nothing you could do, you just had to accept it. It’s amazing just how powerful hope can be. Although Hazel is sure her tumours will grow back, and that she will inevitable die when they do, I think Augustus does bring hope back into her life, and it is this hope that propels them to live their lives as they always should have been – by being happy.
I’m not going to comment on the ending apart from the fact that I figured out pretty early on what would happen. You will be afraid to get to the end, as I undoubtedly was, but I hope that you will keep that little spark of hope alive, just as I did. Who knows what could happen? What I eventually started thinking, after finishing this novel, is whether or not an adult novel could pull this kind of story off? Would it even be acceptable as an adult novel to bring this kind of humour to terminal illnesses? Or is it the power of YA fiction that allows us to push the barriers because teenagers are likely to be more receptive to it, and not quite so outraged an as adult reader may feel towards it? I’d definitely be interested in hearing any of your thoughts on these points…
This is a book that will make you laugh out loud and cry bucketfuls of tears, and it really will stay with you for the rest of your life. I can already see myself re-reading it countless times, and every time I sell it to someone, or recommend it to someone I get a little bubble of happiness inside, and a lump in my throat. This is a book that deserves to be read and shared with everyone you know. John Green is an exceptional writer, and I honestly don’t know how anything is going to beat this novel in 2012 for me, and we’re only a couple of weeks into January! I am now rushing off to devour everything John Green has ever written…!
The Fault In Our Stars is out now, published by Dutton Books, an imprint of Penguin Books USA.
- Trailer Tuesday: The Fault in our Stars and Partials (yabookscentral.blogspot.com)
- Causing a Big Stir in the US: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Australian Nerdfighters Don’t Wait, Get Your Copy Here Now) (booktopia.com.au)
- ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ is a tour de force about teenage cancer (seattletimes.nwsource.com)