Monday, January 16, 2012
The Fault in Our Stars
With such an amazing title and simple cover, I wasn't sure what to make of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. What I uncovered was a book that I can't really explain with any great justice. It was a book that overwhelmed me with emotions and a book I simply could not put down. Quite simply, it was one of the best, if not the best book I have read in a long time.
Hazel has cancer. She can tell you more about the particulars, but basically she is cancer. She isn't fighting a battle with cancer, she is made of cancer and her cancer is made of her. She stopped going to school years ago and got her GED, but she goes to Community College, which is her only real interaction with people other than her parents. Her mother wants her to have a normal(ish) life, so she encourages (makes) Hazel go to a cancer support group. At the support group, Hazel watches a revolving door of cancer people come and go (and by go, she means "from this earth"). What she didn't expect to happen on this particular day was that she would meet Augustus, a boy who lost his leg to cancer.
Augustus is that rare individual who transforms every life he touches, but he does so in such an unassuming way, you can't help but absolutely love him. As he and Hazel get to know each other, she reveal's her favorite book. An Infinite Affliction is about a young girl dying of cancer, but it is real. It isn't the type of book to romanticize the disease or create martyrs of innocent children because of the disease, but instead it tells the truth of it all, scary parts, sad parts, horrible parts and all. And then it ends. mid-sentence, it just ends. Whether because the girl died or was too weak to continue, it just ends. Hazel shares this story with Augustus, and neither of them can stop thinking of what happened to the people the girl left behind. Hazel has tried to contact the author before, but she was never as determined or crafty as Augustus. With his ability to charm himself in or out of anything, Augustus finds the reclusive author and manages an invite to go to Amsterdam and meet him. Although Hazel spent her one Wish (the wish given to dying kids because adults can't bear to see them die) years ago when she thought she was dying, Augustus has never spent his, until now. Although the trip to Amsterdam is crazy, whimsical, and inherently dangerous for a girl whose lungs are intent upon drowning, they go on the adventure that will make their short lives full to the brim. It isn't exactly what you would expect, but it was a Wish that was granted in some strange and life-altering ways.
I am not sure how to describe this book because it really affected me in so many ways, so I will describe the emotions it made me experience. I was angry, so very angry. I was angry for Hazel and her swimming lungs, Augustus and the fact that cancer could hurt a boy who was so simply wonderful, for Isaac who lost both his eyes to cancer (and subsequently his girlfriend). I was heartbroken when Hazel worries that she is a "grenade" who will scatter shrapnel into everyone's lives she touches and scar them forever. I was happy, beyond happy, to watch Augustus take Hazel's life, much of which was filled with not living, but rather going through the motions, and make her live, love, hurt, breathe, and live again. I cried because of the poetic ending, and I laughed at Augustus' and his way of making you laugh even when you should be crying (or sobbing). But even now, I experience a feeling that doesn't really have a name. It is the feeling in your gut and in your throat you get when you remember a book or movie or song that has affected you so deeply, you want to pick it up and start all over again. It is the feeling that you get when you think about that book or movie or song that makes you smile and brings tears to your eyes at the same time.
I loved this book. I can't tell you enough just how much I loved this book. John Green is not only a master, but he is an author who has the ability to change your life. This is a sad book, as its premise clearly tells you, but it is beautiful and happy as well. Don't discount this book as depressing or "too much" for a student, because it isn't. Sometimes I am skeptical about giving a book with a premise such as this to a kid who has experienced loss or grief, but this book would actually help a child who has lived through such a tragedy. It doesn't romanticize the illness, it just tells it like it is. At one point Augustus talks about wanting to leave a legacy when he is gone and Hazel disagrees with him. She just wants to live, live normally. She doesn't need to shape the world, she just wants to make it to her next birthday (which her family counts in half birthdays because a year is too long to wait for). The candidness of this book will affect you deeply, I warn you, but you will be better for it. So give it to everyone who will read it, young adult, (not so young) adult, ill, not so ill, anyone who will read it. Why? Because when you read a book like The Fault in Our Stars, you have to share it.