Wednesday, February 22, 2012

REVIEW: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Tracy's Rating: 4.5/5 stars
Audience:Teen/Young Adult, Adult Crossover 
Genre: Realistic Fiction

Summary: Hazel Grace Lancaster is a walking miracle. Diagnosed with terminal cancer at 12, she is now 16, alive thanks to an experimental drug that keeps the fluid in her lungs in check. Still, breathing is an ongoing struggle, and there is no doubt the the cancer will one day kill her. She's taking college classes but has little human interaction with people other than her parents and doctors. Her "third best friend" (after her parents) is Peter Van Houten, the reclusive author of Hazel's favorite book, An Imperial Affliction. Despite numerous fan letters penned by Hazel, they have never met or even corresponded, but Hazel feels that he is the only person who understands what it's like to be dying without having actually died.

Augustus Waters is a 17-year-old cancer survivor in remission. Hazel first meets him at a support group she attends only under protest. Before Hazel knows what is happening, the two are trading words and feeding off each other's comments with an energy that Hazel hasn't felt in... forever. Then they swap their favorite books, and Augustus makes it his mission to help Hazel find the answers to the many questions she has for Peter Van Houten.  

First Line: Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.

Tracy's Thoughts:  
First, let me say this: John Green is awesome. I adored An Abundance of Katherines, and, although I was slightly less enthusiastic about the Printz-winning Looking for Alaska, I still found it smart, funny, and compelling. I have no good excuse for the fact that I still haven't gotten around to reading Paper Towns or Will Grayson, Will Grayson—his much hyped collaboration with David Levithan—but you can be assured that both are now bumped up near the top of my TBR. No one writes smart teen characters like John Green. His books are both incredibly intelligent—pondering Big Questions with verve and style—and hilarious. Seriously, before I even hit the second chapter of The Fault in Our Stars, I was laughing so hard I was gasping for breath. Twice. In a book about terminal cancer.

At its heart, The Fault in Our Stars is a love story, if one we know to be doomed from the start. Augustus is an incredibly charismatic character, and the snarky, deep-thinking Hazel is his perfect match. Hazel and Augustus have a natural affinity that makes for truly riveting dialog, their separate intellects enhanced by the other. Both are quick-witted, with improbable vocabularies and bookish tendencies. In a way, their repartee reminds me of the nuanced banter of Briony and Eldric in Chime. But unlike Briony and Eldric, Hazel and Augustus are also believable as modern teenagers: they have in-jokes, play pranks, and have the requisite addictions to reality TV and video games. They still feel like teenagers, just teens with extreme intelligence and a situation-enhanced view of reality. Hazel's narration grabbed me from the start—and, despite the comments of some other reviewers—I never felt that it was inauthentic. Here is one early sample:
The Support Group, of course, was depressing as hell. It met every Wednesday in the basement of a stone-walled Episcopal church shaped like a cross. We all sat in a circle right in the middle of the cross, where the two boards would have met, where the heart of Jesus would have been.

I noticed this because Patrick, the Support Group Leader and only person over eighteen in the room, talked about the heart of Jesus every freaking meeting, all about how we, as young cancer survivors, were sitting right in Christ's very sacred heart and whatever.

So here's how it went in God's heart: The six or seven or ten of us walked/wheeled in, grazed at a decrepit selection of cookies and lemonade, sat down in the Circle of Trust, and listened to Patrick recount for the thousandth time his depressingly miserable life story—how he had cancer in his balls and they thought he was going to die but he didn't die and now here he is, a full-grown adult in a church basement in the 137th nicest city in America, divorced, addicted to video games, mostly friendless, eking out a meager living by exploiting his cancertastic past...

Really, there isn't much more I can say about this book without somehow taking away from the incredible journey that it takes you on. It is a wonderfully written book about love and loss and learning to live while coping with the reality of death, about wondering how you will be remembered after you're gone and what will become of those you love. The Fault in Our Stars is not an easy read. It is intellectually and emotionally challenging—but worth the effort. By turns brilliant, hilarious, and heartbreaking, this is a book that is not easily forgotten.


Mflower1 said...

Being a cancer survivor leaves one with the concern that it might return at anytime. There's a cloud hanging over your head that might rain at any time. There's a place for a cancer support group. I started one years ago. It can be a place of encouragement or just a place to gripe and complain. I'm interested in how teenagers handle cancer survival.

Thanks for the review.

Tracy said...

Wow! Thanks for sharing a bit of your personal experience. If you decide to give The Fault in Our Stars a try, I think you'll find that it is very much about living with cancer. There is hope, laughter, adventure, and bittersweet sadness to be found in this book. A few particularly raw moments about the realities of cancer could be difficult for some to read. (Sorry if that's a bit vague; I don't want to give anything away!) Suffice it to say that many will want to keep the tissues handy.

Anonymous said...

Tracy - I felt the same way as you! ( Now I want to read Chime more than ever because of your comparison.


Tracy said...

@ Tessa- I never expected to make such a comparison (on the surface, the two books are TOTALLY different), but the the way the MCs in each had this magical connection and way of communicating and playing off each other really resonated. You'll have to let me know what you think if/when you read Chime!

Marissa Sanders said...

I kind of want to read The Fault in Our Stars but I don't want to because I know it's going to be heartbreaking.

Tracy said...

I highly recommend it, Marissa. Definitely one of my favorites last year. On the heartbreaking front... Actually it didn't tear me up as much as I thought it would. Definitely nowhere near the teary mess the book I am currently reading (Running the Rift) keeps reducing me to.

Fishing Lodges Alaska said...

I have this on my shelves and I still haven't read it! I need to remedy that - I've heard such great things about it from pretty much everyone.

Tracy said...

I highly recommend it, Fishing Lodges Alaska, especially if you enjoy "smart" teen fiction. Also, there is a film adaptation coming next year!

Best Reviews for Austin SEO Don Allen click here said...

Holt McDougal has always been one of my favorite authors. I pre-ordered his latest novel to get the much-revered McDougal signature on the inside cover - what we "in the know" crowd like to call the M-scribble - and I was very pleased. Personally, I can't wait to see what Holt McDougal does next - I'm sure it will capture the hearts of many just as this novel has.

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