Friday, May 24, 2013

The Fault in Our Stars

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Only sixteen, Hazel is a "professional sick person" with terminal cancer - then she meets the charming Augustus Waters, who makes her reexamine her ideas about what we leave behind when we die.

In spite of rave reviews from everyone I know, I put off reading The Fault for a long time. As expected, I sniffled my way through the last fifty pages of this beautiful, beautiful book. And laughed through the rest. It's funny, deep, and heartbreaking.

Green never writes down to teens: Hazel and Gus are smart and tough. Their romance is swoony and sad without veering into cheesy movie-of-the-week territory (I'm looking at you, Love Story.)

Without being didactic, the book celebrates great poets and writers who say what the rest of us can only feel. Hazel and Gus connect over her favorite novel, An Imperial Affliction (don't try to buy it - it's fake literature. And all of us are glad that Green didn't try anything frustrating and literary at the end of The Fault the way Peter van Houten did!). The two teens quote T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens to each other and argue against easy platitudes that on deeper reflection say nothing at all.

Should you read this book? Are you a person who will one day have to confront death? Since I've only ruled out vampires, then yes, you need to read this book.

Another YA writer who combines real wit and pathos is Sherman Alexie. If you still have tears left, try The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. (But not in the same week, because you may dehydrate.)

Anne Frank is one of the writers Gus and Hazel pay tribute to, so definitely read (or reread) The Diary of a Young Girl.

In the acknowledgements, Green recommends a book about the history of cancer called The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee for those who want to know more.

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