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Monday, April 9, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

"The Fault in Our Stars" is the kind of book that makes you want to buy a bunch of copies and press them into the hands of everyone you know. Of course, since I read this on my Kindle, I can't even lend my copy to anyone. But still, the feeling is there.

Now, "The Fault in Our Stars" is technically a Cancer Book, but as the narrator Hazel Grace Lannister points out, "Cancer Books suck." Hazel's point-of-view is refreshing in its lack of sentimentality or cliched emotion. She's anything but a normal teenage girl, but that doesn't mean she can't have teenage-girl thoughts.

Hazel has thyroid cancer that has migrated to her lungs, making them "suck at being lungs" in her parlance. She's too sick for high school so she spends most of her time reading or watching Bravo marathons. After her mother insists that she spend more time out of the house, Hazel starts attending a support group for cancer-stricken teenagers. Of course, Hazel hates the group, with its sickening reliance on cliched ideas of battling cancer and its overuse of inspirational maxims.

But it is there that Hazel meets Augustus Waters, a former basketball star who has lost a leg to osteosarcoma. Despite her need to not become a "grenade" who will blow up the lives of all who love her when she dies, Hazel can't deny her attraction to Augustus, and his persistence eventually wears her down.

Augustus is an amazing fictional creation. He's a teenager who is obsessed with metaphors and metaphysics. Even when playing his favorite video game he insists on acting nobly and dying for a cause greater than himself. But he's also a kid in love, and his awkward attempts to get Hazel to like him are endearing.

The Fault in Our Stars follows Hazel and Augustus's budding relationship as they deal with the awkwardness of their both being sick, and how they handle allowing new people into their life. There is also the more concrete plot of trying to track down Hazel's favorite author, a reclusive Dutchman who has written the only Cancer Book that Hazel ever found to be honest about her disease. This aspect of the book almost feels unnecessary. It would have been enough just to spend time with Hazel and Augustus.

Eventually, of course, there is an upsetting revelation and a tragic end, but the story handles the process of death and grief with compassion and surprising realism. The author, John Green, seems to have a limitless supply of ways to think about life and death.

The Fault in Our Stars is a daring, fascinating look at a subject that is too often made maudlin and cheap by excess sentiment. I can't afford to buy you a copy, but I really do think you should read it.

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