Monday, 19 March 2012

Pretty Perfect : The Fault in Our Stars ~ by John Green

I was brought to 'The Fault in Our Stars' by John Green, kicking and screaming basically, but as it was chosen for my Young Adult Book Club March read, I felt I couldn't put it off for much longer.  I was expecting the heartbreak and the tears, this is after all a book about a sixteen year old girl who is living with cancer, but no one told me how funny this book would be.  Indeed one of the book's characters categorically states that there are different ways to tell a sad story, but he chooses to tell it in a funny way.  I suspect this is the voice of author John Green coming through the text, reminding us that in spite of, and on some occasions because of, all the sadness in the world, there is always room for humour.
The male characters especially, namely Isaac and Augustus, are so witty and charming that you cannot help but smile. And here is the genius of this book.  The characters are so wonderfully drawn, that you can tell that author Green has spent a lot of time around young cancer patients.  Apparently he was a chaplain on a cancer ward just after he graduated college.  He captures the vernacular and natural cadence of teenage speak, so perfectly, that it is difficult to imagine that these characters are indeed fictitious.  The reader is placed inside the head of this teenage narrator and we are convinced that she is real.  The first person narrative makes the language so immediate and personal, that we are hooked into the story from the word go and are rooting for Hazel to beat the cancer statistics and survive, because, as she says herself, 'Cancer sucks.'
In a most unexpected way, this novel is an uplifting, life-affirming tale, not bad considering it is a story about death.  But here I exaggerate; this book would not be half so interesting if it were that simple. It is ultimately a love story, a great love story that celebrates the ability of humans to create a private universe wherever they are, when they are in love; be they hiding in Holland from the Nazis, like Anne Frank, or hanging out in Indianapolis.  It deals with teenagers in love for the first time, learning to love one another and letting themselves be loved in return.
But there is also the story of a familial love and it is so refreshing to read about teenagers who actually love their parents and have healthy relationships with them.  There are some very poignant scenes betweens the teenagers and their families as they navigate the rough waters that surround the world of the cancer patient, or Cancervania, as Hazel calls it.
What is so striking is how normal these kids are.  They want to rebel, to make out, to fake-smoke real cigarettes, to drive a car... they are living with a disease that is part of who they are, but it does not define them.  And this is the beauty of this book: it reminds us how precious life is, how vital every breath we take is, and not in any corny kind of way.  I don't believe I will ever think of a cancer patient, or their family, in the same way again and what better testament do you need from a book?  This is a great book for anyone to read, but I especially think that teenagers will adore it.  I suspect the young adults in my reading group will, well they selected it didn't they and after all, who can resist a great love story.


bookspersonally said...

What a lovely review- love the idea that the author so beautifully combines the humor and the sadness, sounds like a very moving read.

My Book Affair said...

Hi bookspersonally - yes, it was a lovely read: so thought provoking and so tactfully done. I think I will be returning to this book before long. :-)

picky said...

Great review, especially since I also felt I would have to be dragged kicking and screaming to read it. Maybe my next library trip...