Friday, July 6, 2012

Young Adult Fiction: The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

I have finally gotten around to reading the latest novel by young adult fiction writer John Green, The Fault In Our Stars. I first began appreciating Green's writing when I read Paper Towns, and his most recent publication has more of the same wit and humor, while still treating the subject and characters with the seriousness they deserve and that many young adult readers (and their parents) would appreciate. Plus, it deals a lot with cancer...kind of hard to not be serious about that. 

The Situation: Hazel Grace Lancaster has terminal cancer. I get that really, this could go under the next section just as easily, but at the point in Hazel's life that the book deals with, it has taken over every part of her life. She can't go anywhere without Philip, her oxygen tank and cart, that helps her breath and keeps her alive. She attends a support group that she hates once a week, but it becomes slightly more bearable when Augustus Waters shows up: a friend of another support group member and a cancer survivor himself. Augustus is cute, funny, smart, clever, a great friend, and crazy about Hazel. Her mother pushes her to the support group so she doesn't become a recluse, so she can make friends. And it looks like it is finally working. And, I'm sorry, but his name is Augustus! How great is that? Fantastic name! But I digress... 

The Problem: Hazel Grace Lancaster still has terminal cancer. Even with a great new semi-crush/boyfriend thing going on, her lungs still can't function on their own; she still has episodes that land her in the ER where she, and everyone else, thinks she is going to die; her mother continues to hover over her while neglecting having a life of her own; and Hazel still has to be hooked up to a machine (different from Philip) that pumps medicine into her lungs during the night. She and Augustus talk about cancer perks, the side effects of cancer, the side effects of dying, and the literal heart of Jesus (you have to read the book to get the explanation to that one). Being a teenager is hard enough. Being a teenager with terminal cancer...that is something else entirely. 

Genre, Theme, History: This is a young adult novel and a romance, but a different type of romance. While being brutally honest about a life (and impending death) with cancer, Green still manages to give the reader a romance. Sure, it is between two teenagers, which always makes me more than a little cautious to take it seriously, but the fact that illness is always present and death is always very very close makes this different from what we usually get on TV or in other novels. They may be young, but the phrase "You have your whole life ahead of you," just doesn't apply here. And because of this, there are themes of fatalism, nihilism, and a little bit of defeatism, mostly coming from Hazel. But can we blame her? Honestly, I sometimes wanted to, but I have also never been face with certain death at 16. 

My Verdict: I am always nervous to begin reading a book that deals with such a sensitive subject matter such as terminal illness, but Green handles the subject well. The book is honest without being insensitive, and also without beating the reader over the head with the harsh reality of terminal illness. And while the idea may not be new, that doesn't matter. I still wanted to read Hazel's story, meet her family, attend her support group, and watch bad reality TV with her. It was worth the anxiety. 

Favorite Moment: When Hazel gets up from her chair, oxygen cart and all, and knocks the drink from the hand of a drunk, belligerent, washed-up writer. I think I like it because it proves, despite what she may think, that she hasn't given up yet. 

Favorite Character: Hazel's dad, Mr. Lancaster. He cries the most out of anyone else in the novel, and for some reason I just find the incredibly endearing. Also, unlike Hazel's mother, he doesn't hover around her, probably because he works a lot. But he still manages to be a dad and speak the truth to his daughter when she needs to hear it. 

Recommended Reading: Paper Towns, the first book I read by John Green. I may have actually like Paper Towns better than this one, but they are both worth looking into. Authors like Green are the reason the young adult genre has grown so much, and why some of the best books for adults to read these days are the ones that were written for their kids. Also, I recommend Flannery O'Connor's short story, "Good Country People." That may seem like a random choice, but in a few ways, Hazel reminded me of the ill-fated Joy/Hulga. And if that doesn't make you curious about this book, then I am not sure what would.

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