I read this in one sitting, was up half the night, and went through a half a box of tissues. You WILL cry. And not just because this is a book about teenagers with cancer (it is) and not because John Green uses emotionally manipulative author tricks to pull the cry out of you (he doesn’t – thank you John – ’cause I hate books that do that). You will cry because of the masterful way that John Green weaves a story full of love. You won’t just cry when people get sick or when they talk about death (you will). But you’ll maybe cry during tender parts where the love between Hazel and Augustus (Gus) is so real and so huge and so beautiful that you are filled with such appreciation for it that all you can do is cry. And you’ll cry because Hazel understands the suffering of her parents. And you’ll cry because of the amazing lover Hazel’s small family has for each other.
But you won’t just cry. You’ll laugh too, sometimes maybe even out loud. John is his usual super-smart witty self and the repartee between Hazel and Gus is sometimes wickedly dark and funny. And then you throw Isaac into the mix and the three-way conversation is delicious.
Many loved Green’s Looking for Alaska. I did not love that book. I liked it fine, but honestly I felt that it tried too hard and was pretentious. That book made me a fan of John Green, but not a mega fan.
The The Fault in Our Stars tackles some of the same issues as Looking for Alaska but with so much more maturity and grace, that I can hardly believe it is by the same writer (except that it most certainly is – Green’s unique voice is here and familiar to Green fans). But Green has had time to mature, both as a writer and a person, and I don’t think you could ask for better treatment of such a tough and emotional subject as Green’s tender hand in The Fault in Our Stars.
Given that the book deals with death, and the inevitability that one feels from the start that a death will happen (it is a book about cancer after all), the book appropriately discusses existential questions: What is the point of all this? Is there a God? Is there life after death? I got the sense that John Green argued this theme with himself by way of three characters: Hazel, Gus and a cynical author Peter Van Houten. There’s little to no attempt here on the part of the author to tell us what to think or provide some grand answer (though perhaps through Hazel’s father’s simple yet profound statements on the topic we get as close as we can to an answer). And to address a topic like this and not provide grand statements and “answers” takes a hand of restraint on the part of an author. I think this hand of restraint can only be exercised by an experienced author at the top of his game.
My only fault with the whole book is that Hazel does not sound like a 16 year old girl – she sounds like John Green pretending to be a 16 year old girl. But just a few pages in, you’ll forget that she sounds like John Green because you’re so invested in her and Gus and the other characters that you’ll forgive this one little fault.
If I could give more than five stars I would. This is a knock out of the park homerun of a book.
Thank you John Green for writing it.