When I discover a book that I end up reading in 2-3 days flat (even when I really, really don’t have time for it), I just have to talk about it.* John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is one such book. Written by an author who appears to be kind of a god of the young adult genre, this book about kids with cancer makes My Sister’s Keeper look like the worst book ever written (which it was) and also makes the topic of two kids with cancer falling in love not only palatable but surprisingly uplifting. It’s sad, too; it’s heartbreaking and it’s raw, and it’ll hit you where it hurts, but it’s also so charming you just wish these characters were real (though if they were, they might be too cool for you. They’d definitely be too cool for me).
The story goes like this: Hazel is 16 and has terminal cancer (and an oxygen tank she has to lug around with her 24-7). At a support group for kids with the big c, she meets and falls for Augustus Waters, the first boy to ever turn her on in real life. (He’s sexy, by the way, that Augustus. Reeaal sexy. He also has a prosthetic leg, a side effect of his bone cancer). Here’s the thing about Hazel and Augustus: they’re crazy smart, they’re well-read, they’re insightful and hilarious and MAYBE THE MOST INTERESTING TEENAGERS YOU’VE EVER MET. I love me some Bella, but that girl is as boring as a doormat compared to Hazel. Hazel’s like Juno but better. Gus is like Michael Cera but sexier. Case in point? HE WALKS AROUND WITH A CIGARETTE IN HIS MOUTH ALL THE TIME BUT NEVER LIGHTS IT BECAUSE HE WANTS TO PUT THE KILLING THING IN HIS TEETH BUT NOT GIVE IT THE POWER TO KILL HIM. It’s a metaphor, and Augustus Waters loves metaphor. (What teenager doesn’t?) Hazel and Augustus are just so quirky and unique and thoughtfully-ironic and un-cheesy, you want to bottle them and send them off to every young adult author as a template for non-generic dialogue writing. She uses words like “hamartia” (that means fatal flaw); he explains that his previous girlfriend, who died of cancer, “is not longer suffering from personhood.”
Their witty banter aside, this story is super compelling because you just want things to work out for these two sweet kids, dammit! And yet, you sense from the very beginning that it won’t, that it can’t — because both of them have cancer, but both aren’t living, and both aren’t dying. It’s a progressively sadder and sadder story as you watch them grow to love each other like crazy, even as they fight their respective illnesses.
The book has some hamartias, of course — sometimes you get the feeling these characters are just a tad (or a lot) more witty than is humanly possible. And sometimes, the story is so sad, it just kind of hurts. But it’s also the kind of book that might just make you happier than you already were to be alive.
*Assuming that book is not sTORItelling, in which case I will never, ever talk about it.