by John Green
Hazel is a grenade. She lives under the constant pressure that any day could be her last. She has terminal cancer held in check by experimental drugs—cancer that will eventually explode and destroy her weakened body. Hounded by her parents to be more active, Hazel meets cancer survivor Augustus Waters in a weekly support group, and soon the two teenagers are on the verge of something more than friendship; yet, Hazel doesn’t want to be loved, not when at any moment her cancer may ignite, and those loved ones she leaves behind will be forced to pick up the pieces.
Only John Green can take two teenagers whose entire lives, whose circle of friends, whose very experience of life revolves around cancer—and make it funny. For the first half of this marvelous novel I chuckled at the quirky dialogue and quips exchanged between Hazel, Augustus and their friend Isaac, and enjoyed the cynical sense of humor shared by these three cancer victims. Despite their weekly visits to the “literal heart of Jesus” where they listen to a social worker discuss his earlier bout with testicular cancer (insert ball jokes here) the three seem to have an incredibly positive and realistic outlook on life. Imagine going to a meeting every week where you are reminded of your mortality, given a list of the recently deceased children who’ve gone before you, and generally soaked in the presence and culture of death. How many of us could smile, let alone laugh? As the story develops and through the voices of Hazel and Augustus, who clearly love one another but fight the attraction, we meet Peter Van Houten, author of Hazel’s favorite novel, An Imperial Aflliction. It is Van Houten’s work, his voice, who in many ways bring the two “star crossed” lovers together. In fact, it is Van Houten who first points out that that the fault of a future that “sucks” may have nothing to do with us, or our choices. Sometimes fate decides. Good people have bad luck, young people get sick and die. It happens. The fault is not in ourselves (a reference to lines from the Shakespearean play Julius Caesar), it really is in our stars. This honesty is what makes the novel so tragically wonderful, so incredibly moving, and the unexpected twist so heart wrenching. And yet for each tear I shed in the novel, I laughed twice as much. And isn’t that really what life is supposed to be about, no matter how brief that life might be?