I’m proud to make this novel the first of my book reviews. Though I love a good intricately woven fiction novel geared toward adults, I also love a good (keyword: good) young adult novel. John Green is by far, in my opinion, the best author out there for young adults. I say this because he presents a real portrait of the youth of America. These are not impressively hot chicks who have a thing for bad-boy vampires. And they are obviously not impressively chiseled bad boy vampires. These characters are teenagers. They have acne. They wear glasses. They like video games. And they are all too often not very good at talking to the opposite sex without saying something insanely stupid.
Hazel Grace Lancaster is no exception. What sets her apart from most other kids her age is that she’s a cancer kid. She is dying and she knows it. She’s had a little time bought for her by an experimental new drug (fictional, as Green points out). She has chubby chipmunk cheeks from the drugs she has to take, and she has to lug around an embarrassing oxygen cart because she would die if she didn’t. However, when she goes to support group led by one-ball Patrick (he had a testicle removed following his bout with testicular cancer) she still takes the stairs because the elevator is for those kids who are currently on death’s door. I loved Hazel. John Green has a way of tackling intense subjects in a way that makes readers feel at ease. We don’t feel guilty for getting the humor in this novel. Yes, it’s about a touchy and intensely sad subject, but to a cancer kid that is life. They still laugh. They still get teenage crushes. And they still live their lives until it’s their time to go. Hopefully they’ll be able to see adulthood before that happens. I think it’s important for healthy teenagers to get this real-life image of sick kids. Too often, the sick kid becomes a pariah. They confuse and scare other kids, because it’s impossible for other kids to know how to react. For this reason they act in some negative fashion, whether it be complete avoidance, utter contempt or with overzealous pity.
Hazel eventually meets a one-legged teenage God, Augustus Waters. He lost his leg during a battle with osteocarcoma. He is cancer-free now, but he still understands what Hazel is grappling with, and he learns to love her even through the ever-present threat that he could lose her at any moment. Together they embark on a journey to find the truth. Inspired by the characters in Hazel’s favorite novel, they seek to find out what happens to the family of a cancer kid who’s lost the struggle to go on. It’s a morbid question, but the reader starts to realize that for Hazel, this is a burning question that is not so much about the character from the book, but about her own future demise.
As usual, John Green’s characters are a bit flawed. Though I love the snarky, intellectual humor, many of the teens come across as a bit overboard and unrealistic. They use phrases often not even used by college professors thirty years their senior. In this case, perhaps it’s not so out there. They are kids who, for most of their lives, have been unable to do anything physical due to their illnesses, so they read. They absorb more information than a lot of other kids their age, so I can see how they would have a bit of an intellectual edge. This, to me, is a minor quibble. I enjoy the banter, and I wish more teenagers were intellectual prodigies. I would have a much more positive outlook on our future as a nation.
I don’t want to go much further into the plot, because there’s a lot about this I don’t want to give away. Ultimately, this is a story about love, friendship and family. It’s about the fleeting moments in our lives that can define how we will be remembered when we’re nothing but a memory. And deep down it’s just an amazing story. Thank you, Mr. Green, for another amazing story. Five stars from a big fan!
And p.s., Mr. Green – Thanks for finally channeling a female protagonist. You did a pretty damn good job.