Published by Penguin Australia January 11 2012
Paperback, 313 pages
My curiosity was peaked by this book when I had a customer come and see me every two days prior to its original release in 2012. She kept asking questions that I sadly couldn’t answer, as I had neither heard of the book nor its writer. I wish I had taken down this girl’s name, because although she got a copy of the book when we received them, I never got to thank her for introducing me to the genius that is John Green and this beautifully tragic novel.
The Fault In Our Stars is a brutally honest and raw narrative about a girl named Hazel and her struggle with cancer. Or as Hazel would probably prefer it put, her struggle with life and to live, for she knows she has no problem with cancer – it keeps beating her every time. Hazel knows she should be dead, and she knows she would have been had it not been for some ‘miracle’ (for she does not always see it that way) in a clinical drug trial that gave her a few more years to live with her faithful oxygen tank by her side. The novel starts with Hazel being forced to attend a support group after a mutual agreement between her parents and her doctors over concerns of her growing depression. It’s here at the group that Hazel meets Augustus Walters and our story really begins.
In part I don’t want to say too much about the actual story itself, for I feel nothing I could write here would do the narrative any form of justice. Nor do I want to give away too much of the storyline, for it is something you should discover on your own without someone else’s judgements and prejudices towards the narrative. What I will say is what I liked about the novel and why I think you should read it.
Green is unwavering in his approach to adolescent cancer in this book. He’s not one to gloss over the imperfections or the moody and negative aspects of its reality and because of that I believe he has created a realistic narrative. I understand that many people may disagree with me on this and I can understand why. John Green himself goes to a number of lengths in the book to point out that what your reading is fiction. He made it up. It’s not real. And yet somehow through the course of the narrative you forget this and it ceases to matter. You cry and laugh along with the characters of Hazel and Augustus. You even fall in love with them. So much so that it seemed to me like I knew these characters possibly better than I knew some of the people that I might see every day. It’s been too long since a novel so powerful as this one has captivated me; and for that Green needs to be commended
I kind of feel at this point that I need to make a small disclaimer here. When in high school, a girl I was friends with and had known my entire schooling life lost her fight against cancer. Although I know this experience effects everybody no matter their stage of life, I truly believe that at such a young and impressionable age it can have such a profound affect – on both the cancer victim and those around them in a different sort of way. Your adolescent years is a time where you’re meant to be happy, sure you’re moody and a bit socially dysfunctional as well, but it’s also a time of vulnerability. These teenage years become a period in which you learn things you never knew you were looking for. Like who your friends are and what it means to be a friend. What you want to be and the realisation that you may not be able to do that. It’s a time where you are learning exactly who you are. And then to throw something like cancer, and questions of death and what it means to be living in to an already overly emotional and vulnerable time affects you so profoundly that I know I still find myself chasing questions and moments from way back then. Because of an early exposure to the harsh realities of cancer I’ve noticed that I personally may have developed a need to know certain things about it. Not just in turns of the medicine and science, or spiritual matters, but I find myself constantly chasing stories featuring cancer (fiction and non-fiction) to better understand what my friend went through and what I myself went through. I guess it’s slightly the need to know if the way you responded is normal in a way. To this end, I’ve read countless books about cancer and many of them featuring adolescents. None of them have affected me so much as The Fault In Our Stars.
Why do I think this might be the case? I think it’s because of the way Green tackled this book. Although he is just another voice in a long line of authors taking on this subject matter (Davida Wills Hurwin’s A time for dancing; Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper; Jenny Downham’s Before I Die just to name a few) I feel as though it is his approach to the subject that separates him from the rest. Green does not hold back. His tale is unwavering in its honesty with the realities of cancer – the good, the bad and the in-between. He doesn’t sugar coat anything and it makes the narrative gritty and in your face in a way previous unseen. For although characters were gravely ill in Hurwin’s A time For Dancing, the experience wasn’t really dealt with, and although in Picoult’s My Sisters Keeper there are the bare facts and some side affects are dealt with – hair loss, bleeding and organ failure – its never been done to the extent of Green’s narrative nor from the perspective of a terminally ill-patient who by some miracle has had their current state of health, suspended. Green’s character Hazel knows that her so-called miracle won’t last forever and that when that day comes she will die. But in the time being, her doctors, her family, her ‘friends’ believe that she needs to live. And this is where I think Green narrative sets him apart from the rest. Hazel isn’t dying right now – she’s just okay – but she’s not living either, for death and the near certainty of its arrival sooner than later is forever lurking just out of sight. Green’s narrative explores what this in between time is like for all parties concerned – the patient, the family members, the friends, and the lovers. And he does so in such a manner that it is hard to look away, to put the book down and do anything else. He makes you feel for the characters in such a strong way that its hard not to know them personally. Which makes it all that much harder to close the book at the end of the last page. You don’t want this story to end. You can’t want it to end.
In a way I feel as though words have failed me in respect to reviewing this book. For no matter what I type here I don’t think it conveys the exact feelings that I had whilst reading it. It’s taken me a year to write this and I still can’t convey everything I want to say about it, not because I can’t think of it, because I’m finding it almost impossible to put it into a coherent sentence. The Fault In our Stars is a breath of fresh air in the world of YA. It’s honest. It’s real (despite being fiction). It’s heartbreaking. And I can guarantee by the end of the book you will have not only fallen in love with the characters, but you will have shed more than one tear. I read the whole 313 pages of this book in one night after work. I balled my eyes out. For the ending is not what you would ever have expected.
If you can do your self one favour this year, I urge you to read this book when you get the chance.
This review also appears on Goodreads. To read more about the book on Goodreads click here.