I know. I’m late to the party on this one. John Green has himself a little army of do-gooders (Nerdfighters), and I only just last year figured out that the Crash Course YouTube dude was also the cancer love story dude.
But for whatever points it might be worth, I finally got around to reading Green’s most popular and celebrated novel, The Fault in Our Stars, which is partly based on Green’s time as a student chaplain in a children’s hospital. I had been sorta toying with and avoiding it for more than a year, largely because I’m not a fan of the feels. I mean, this thing has tear-jerker written all over it, and I tend to loathe anything that manipulates my emotions (see my review for Never Let Me Go for more on this topic.)
Well, I was wrong. Partly. Certainly I got a little teary in a spot or two. When you have two completely sympathetic, falling in love, and dying from cancer protagonists, there’s going to be sadnesses. Green doesn’t spare on it, but he doles it out in reasonable, realistic chunks. He doesn’t get maudlin, doesn’t manipulate emotions, doesn’t play to the melodrama. It’s all incredibly tangible.
Which is, of course, exactly the point of much of the novel. Cancer kids are real human beings with all of the feelings, insecurities, and needs for significance that healthy human beings experience. Where that significance comes from and what form it might take when death comes before the age of 20 are crucial questions to our protagonists.
What I loved about the novel:
- Distinct voices for our narrator Hazel, but also her love interest Augustus, her favorite author Peter Van Houten, and her friends Isaac and Katherine. Hazel’s voice is simply enjoyable to listen to. Now, do the teens actually sound like teens? I don’t end up caring one little bit.
- Literary references up the wazoo. My favorite of these: Hazel reciting “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (I may, at a future date, elucidate why this poem is so perfect for the book).
- Lots of philosophy about humanity’s relationship to the universe. The final answer Hazel comes to for the question, What makes a well-lived life? is simply quantum poetry.
So read this book. It’s well worth the time and sadness to get to know these human beings for a little while.