Monday, January 30, 2012

Fault in our Stars

I have a confession to make. As a teenager in between my reading of Stephen King and Christopher Pike, I read the maudlin tales of Lurlene McDaniel. These tearjerkers all had the same thing in common--someone died--usually of some horrific cancer that the character struggles through while the supporting characters rally around her.

What does this have to do with John Green's newest book, The Fault in Our Stars, you ask? Simply that the main character, Hazel, is a cancer kid. That alone would have made me want to read it, but then add in that it's John Green (and as some may know--pretty much all teen librarians love John Green), and it's set in Indianapolis (I'm an uprooted Hoosier). I had to read it. I figured it would be a hard read for me to do right now for reasons I'm not going into, I decided to try and if it became too upsetting, I'd stop. I didn't have to stop. I read it all day yesterday.

Hazel is a sixteen year old teen who has thyroid cancer that has metastasized to her lungs. She lugs around an oxygen tank because as she puts it her lungs suck at being lungs. Her mother forces her to attend a support group for cancer kids. She's been terminal for three years and has accepted that her cancer is going to be the death of her. But then she meets Augustus at the support group. He lost part of a leg to bone cancer. He only came to support his friend Isaac who is losing his only functioning eye to cancer, but when he sees Hazel he can't look away. He calls her Hazel Grace and compares her to Natalie Portman in V for Vendetta. They begin a friendship with tentative flirting and then a full fledged romance that is doomed from the start.

I figured that I would know how the story ends before it even began, but I was pleasantly wrong. Hazel and Augustus are the type of intellectual teens that banter back and forth about book quotes or philosophical issues that only facing death truly brings up in conversation. They poke fun at the maudlin cancer kid problem novels. And yes, this is a cancer kid problem novel at the heart of it, but it's hilariously funny and bitterly sad at the same time. Only a truly talented author can balance that fine line. As someone from Indy, I have to say that I knew exactly where they were throughout the book, which tickled me to death. The side storyline trip to Amsterdam to meet a reclusive author as their Wish was a mixed bag for me. I enjoyed all of it, but it felt like it was tacked on because the author got a grant of some sort to write about it. It wasn't necessary to the story for me, but that doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy it because I did.

And for those people who are wondering if this is a massive tearjerker--it wasn't for me. I choked up when Hazel compares herself to a grenade and that she wanted to save others from the collateral damage of knowing her. I choked up when her father spoke to her about his love for her (FYI--awesome parents in this book all around. I love that the parents were real!!). But for the rest of the sad parts, I didn't really get upset as a reader. That says a lot for me since I tear up at the mention of anything sad usually. Now that I said that--I hope the other teen librarians who have read this book will chime in with their take on the book. I know that there are at least two or three in our libraries that have read it too, so I'll see if they'll post their thoughts here as well!

Some reviews are saying that this is John Green's best yet, but I still favor Looking for Alaska over this one. It's a second place for me. Still fabulous and highly recommended--I just wanted a little more. This book is for those realistic fiction readers looking for some fun dialogue, great characters, and a bit of sadness thrown in.

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