THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by JOHN GREEN
I suppose we can blame Markus Zusak and the narrator of The Book Thief for introducing Death to this generation of Young Adult readers, especially those from developed countries with long life expectancies and very little direct experience of dying.
Such a Young Adult was one of my many delightful students who burst into the classroom excitedly waving a book she had bought while overseas. She is a complete fan of John Green’s novels and had snaffled a SIGNED copy of his latest book, The Fault in Our Stars. She insisted I read it at once because it was funny and sad. Once more, the generation gap yawned because, although there is definite humour in the book I was overwhelmed by the sadness of two teenagers with terminal cancer.
Hazel is in a sort of temporary remission from a cancer that has lodged in her lungs. Wherever she goes, an oxygen tank trundles along. She copes with this burden with wit. When she reluctantly goes to a Support Group Meeting, she meets an enchanting boy who is both a cancer survivor and the friend of another boy who is facing imminent blindness. Augustus declares his deep attraction for the reserved and private Hazel and she is quickly won by his intellect and his sincerity as well as his exuberance.
Hazel had already ensnared me because of her wide reading: during the long years of cancer she has been educated at home by devoted parents who have been so successful that she is already enrolled at university and attending lectures when she is able. Augustus is still at high school but also seems destined for university.
Unlike the tiresome Romeo and Juliet, these two seem very well suited to each other: they share a deep sense of the ridiculous and swap puns and play word games like the very best of Shakespeare’s lovers. They are definitely Rosaline and Orlando rather than those petulant adolescents fromVerona.
When Gus arranges for the fulfilling of Hazel’s dream, to meet the author of her favourite book, they are able to travel toAmsterdamfor a few all too brief days. The author is a completely horrible misogynist whose unpleasantness is made more cutting by his devotion to alcohol. Even with Hazel’s mother as chaperone, they are able to enjoy some blissfully romantic hours before Gus is forced to admit to Hazel that he is no longer cancer-free.
I have liked many of John Green’s novels but I think this is his best so far. He avoids sticky sentimentality and we are confronted with the horrors of desperate measures to at least slow down the disease. He also presents the anguish of the parents of such children.
Is this then a book that is too grim?
Not at all! If reading this novel encourages young adults to ponder on the great questions and reflect on the uncertainty of life, even in the wealthiest of countries and to have some empathy for those of their peers who do suffer such conditions, then this is a good book.
I particularly like his respect for his readers so that he does not feel the need to provide the details of Hazel’s inevitable end, and creates many characters that are flawed and sometimes even unlovely.
I believe for many of its readers, The Fault in Our Stars will change some of their thinking. And mind changing is always a beneficial experience.
Review by Suzanne O’Connor