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Thursday, March 22, 2012

(BlogHer) Book (Club) Talk: *The Fault in Our Stars*, by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars
John Green (Twitter) (Facebook)
Dutton Juvenile (2012), Hardcover (ISBN 9781101569184 / 1101569182)
Fiction (YA), 336 pages
Source: Purchased e-book (iBooks edition)
Reason for reading: BlogHer Book Club

Disclosure: I was compensated for this review and participation in discussion about this book at BlogHer.com; I read it as an e-book I had purchased prior to joining the book club.

Opening lines: “Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my free time to thinking about death.”

Book description, from the publisher’s website: Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten. 
Insightful, bold, irreverent, and raw, The Fault in Our Stars is award-winning-author John Green’s most ambitious and heartbreaking work yet, brilliantly exploring the funny, thrilling, and tragic business of being alive and in love.
Comments: It seems wrong, on the face of it, for a book about teens with cancer to be laugh-out-loud funny. It seems appropriate for a book about teens with cancer to be wrenchingly sad. And when a book that has both these qualities is written with both tremendous intelligence and respect for the intelligence of its readers, it seems quite likely that the author would be John Green.

Green’s adolescent characters tend to have the best qualities of real teens--intelligence, observational skills, critical thinking, a functioning moral compass, and keen, if dark, sense of humor--but they’re never too good to be true. This is particularly fortunate in his latest YA novel, The Fault in Our Stars, as his principal characters are teens with cancer; in different hands, they could be all too easily sanctified and/or reduced to their condition. However, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters are rendered vividly alive in the time they have with each other--”living (their) best life today,” whether they want to or not.

In different hands, this story could simply be a tragedy. Here, it’s hilarious, heart-rending, romantic, sometimes furious, occasionally farfetched (but not where it really matters), painfully honest and honestly painful. The writing is both straightforward and evocative, and the dialogue is particularly remarkable: it’s literate and casual, sometimes within the same sentence--and as someone who’s lived with teens quite recently (and currently), it rang thoroughly real to my ears.

As an adult reader, one of the things that tends to get under my skin when reading YA is the marginalization of adult characters that sometimes happens. Then again, such marginalization is probably an accurate representation of adolescent self-absorption--and to be fair, the adolescents in The Fault in Our Stars may have more justification for their self-absorption, and the associated belief that their parents have no other focus but them, than most teens do. I appreciated that this actually was addressed within the novel, between Hazel and her parents, in a way that was insightful and true to character and story.

The only one of Green’s books I’ve read prior to this one is Looking for Alaska; I have a couple of his others in TBR Purgatory, but I really can’t evaluate The Fault in Our Stars relative to his other work at this point. However, I can say that at this point in 2012, it’s the best book I’ve read this year--although I don't feel that I've communicated that here very effectively, not have shared many details of the book itself beyond the quoted description! Check out some of the other reviews; you'll probably find that many other readers have responded to The Fault in Our Stars much as I have, but most of them express it better. I’d absolutely recommend this novel to both teens and post-teen readers, and I'm excited to be discussing it with the BlogHer Book Club during the next few weeks.

Rating: 4.25/5