Feb 3, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

I long ago swore off Cancer Kid books, mostly because they were depressing as hell and partly because it made me utterly paranoid that I would develop cancer. So when the children's buyer at my bookstore vehemently insisted I read this book, I was a little cautious. Yes, it is depressing as hell sometimes, but much more than that, it is funny as all get out.

We follow about six months or so in the life of Hazel, a sixteen-year-old girl living with thyroid cancer that metastasized in her lungs. She's incredibly intelligent, mordant and clever in the best possible way, and reading the story in her first person is a joy. She eventually meets Augustus Waters, a seventeen-year-old cancer survivor with one and a half legs, and the result is typical of Cancer Kid books: cancer boy meets cancer girl, cancer kids fall in love, one of them dies (I won't say which one, obviously).

So what makes this book so much better than all those other depressing Cancer Kid books? Turns of phrase such as, "I fell in love like you fall asleep, slowly and then all at once," to start with. Green has a gift for molding language into thoughts you've never heard out loud, but that feel true and familiar as soon as you read them. Then there's the humor, as I've already mentioned. Augustus and Hazel are hilarious, as only precocious, sarcastic teenagers can be, so even though I spent the last fifty pages crying (not just tearing up, actually crying), the rest of the book made it worth my while. The last thing I love about this book is that it throws out the window all the condescending things people say about YA fiction. For some reason, YA is the redheaded stepchild of the literary world, but so few people realize how incredibly difficult it is to write a good YA novel: not too difficult but not too simple, a good YA book deals with the same complex emotions and issues that adults deal with all the time, and doesn't condescend to its reader or assume s/he can't understand complicated ideas. I have a tremendous amount of respect for authors who plunge into YA and emerge from the deep with such gems as is this book.

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