The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Despite the tumour-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.
I finished this novel hours ago and I've been trying to gather my thoughts together since. I'm still unsure how the book sits with me. I wanted to love it, and I felt I should love it. The subject matter is so grim and tender that of course I burst into tears at many of the poignant points made. I'm unsure whether that is due to Green's writing skills, or my fragile emotional state, however I know many others who cried through the whole book.
Hazel and Augustus meet at a cancer support group, and fall in love. They're very obviously not like normal teenagers, and their story is not a normal teenage love story. It's very beautiful and romantic, and their realism is absolutely breathtaking. They know they won't be here for long, and they live their lives accordingly.
The story stems from Green's experiences working as a student chaplain in a children's hospital. He describes this as "devastating", however I'm sure you'll agree it must've been so much worse than that. Green gives us Hazel and Augustus not as cancer victims who are heroic, fighting the losing battle, but as real teenagers dealing with a real illness. He shows us how a sixteen year old deals with the fact that she will die young, and her thoughts on her funeral, the pain, and what will happen to everyone she leaves behind. He gives us no heroics and no strong soldiers, only the fact that cancer is ugly and debilitating and that although it consumes a life, it will not define it. His messages are strong and perceptive, and I was very impressed by the way the story felt.
My issue with this novel is that you're dragged into Augustus and Hazel's lives as a voyeur. You weep for them and mourn their conditions, but you're nothing but a passenger. You're not a family member; you love the characters, but not enough. You're a witness to the most awful of situations, and you attempt to understand what the characters are going through, but my problem is that you absolutely cannot do this unless you've been through it yourself. Green puts across the pain and suffering of the victims and their families as best he can, but I doubt anyone can truly appreciate how anyone would feel in such a tragic situation. I felt didn't have the right to laugh at the cancer jokes, nor completely grasp the metaphorical and existential musings, for I'm one of many who (optimistically) believe they will live a long healthy life. I felt like a fraud.
For the reasons above, I feel I could also have a cheek to describe the novel as gorgeous and fierce, and have completely struggled to write this review. I would, however, recommend the novel to anyone strong enough to read it.