Admission: I am an avid reader from the Mid-West, and...I've never read John Green (until a few weeks ago). Some would threaten to take my card away for this. In the Young Adult literary world, and honestly the literary world in general, the man is like a Rock God.
And he lives in Indianapolis, which is just up the road and across the field from where I grew up. (Does that give me the right to look him up next time I'm in town? Probably not.)
I made it my goal in 2012 to take a huge bite out of Green's backlist. Between my daughter and I, we have most of his stuff. It is just a matter of doing it.
My first opportunity came when I saw that his latest publication "The Fault in our Stars" was carried by my library on audio. I hesitated only three minutes before I ordered it because I knew the book was about teenagers with cancer. Serious downer, I know, but I had been assured that it was about so much more than that. Of course it is. Every time there is a book about kids dying of cancer, it is ALWAYS about so much more, otherwise why on earth would we read them?
Synopsis: Hazel Lancaster's premature demise is a foregone conclusion. Stricken with terminal thyroid cancer at 13 (which has also affected her ability to breathe), she knows her days are numbered but attempts to live as normally as a 16 year-old with cancer can. Then she meets Augustus at a support group. Handsome and clever and a survivor of bone cancer that took a leg, Gus is smitten with Hazel. And the two of them decide to rewrite the story of what remains of their lives.
They play video games. They watch movies. They take revenge on a girl who dumped their friend with eye cancer. They share their favorite books. They obsess over one particular book about cancer that has an unsatisfying ending (we can relate, yes?) and decide they need to track down the author in Amsterdam to retrieve answers. Hey, being a kid with cancer comes with perks, right?
The value of keeping a promise. Finding true love and allowing it into your heart despite the risks. Leaving your mark on the world. Coping with loss. Making wishes. Creating your own endings. These are just a handful of themes that lie between the pages of this unforgettable novel.
My thoughts: I won't lie. My first hurdle WAS getting past the idea of kids dying. As a parent, it is impossible not to imagine all of these horrible things, put yourself in the position of Hazel and Gus's parents, and over-think everything, which is what I do best. I walked away from that emotional journey marveling at a few things. Just because these two were sick, the parents STILL didn't let them go to the basement unsupervised. They still forced their kids to do their homework, bullied them to eat something, but did not smother them with over-protection. This book had cool parents. I like that, because parents are generally shit-heels in YA novels.
I completely fell in love with Hazel and Gus. They were both highly gifted, well-read, insightful kids with snappy and snarky dialogue. They both had their moments of depression, but generally they rolled with the punches and allowed themselves to laugh at their circumstances, refusing to be martyrs. It felt like a skewed version of "Juno".
It became clear to me in my inaugural journey through Green-land that the man just GETS IT. He gets teenagers, he gets terminal illness, he seems to get all the issues that are on the minds of people who are faced with death. Did Green interview children with cancer? I'm not sure, I haven't scrounged around on the Internet to find out his sources of inspiration, but it certainly appears he has done his homework.
And his writing is poetic and gorgeous.
And the book has been optioned for a movie by Fox 2000. I haven't decided who I would imagine as Gus, but in my mind there is only one to play Hazel. AnnaSophia Robb. It was her face that was in my mind throughout the entire book.
A few words about the audio production: Our narrator for this audio was Kate Rudd. Who was truly amazing. She is a young actor who embodied a teenager's attitude and inflections, and while I've never listened to her before (but hey, she narrated "Wonder"!!!), I'd pick up anything she has done. Brava Kate.
I THOUGHT I uploaded every disc to my iPod, but when I got to what I assumed was the end after five discs, it told me to "insert disc 6". I nearly had a cat folks. This was a rip-your-hair-out meltdown in the making. So yes, I bought the thing on my Kindle so I could finish. That is just how good it was.
5 out of 5 stars