Let’s hop on the bandwagon for a ride to WE ADORE JOHN GREEN land. I had no idea this guy was so popular. He’s an interweb star, apparently selling out auditorium after auditorium (auditoria?) on his book tours. And after a couple of emotional days with The Fault in Our Stars in my hands, I can more clearly see what the hype is about.
Green assembles lovely sentences full of gulps for more breath and the run-ons of teen enthusiasm, his characters sound authentic with slang in their mouths, and he has a wonderful ear for quick wit in dialogue. All skills that suit his ambition here: creating a teen love story that rivals the great tragedies in the literary canon.
Green first unleashes sixteen-year-old Hazel Lancaster—a terminal cancer patient, a poetic philosopher, and a scared teenager. Hazel’s lung tumours are stable; not shrinking, but not growing either. An experimental drug has bought her a few more years. She narrates with honest and sarcastic observations that capture her sense of mortality, keeping readers engaged and off-balance: “Depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying. (Cancer is also a side effect of dying. Almost everything is, really.)”
Into Cancer Support Group hobbles Augustus Waters, a one-legged, charismatic “survivor” of osteosarcoma. He quickly recognizes radiance beneath Hazel’s illness, and that’s about the only cue he needs to engage in a playful courtship. She never stands a chance against his charm: “You’re beautiful. I enjoy looking at beautiful people, and I decided a while ago not to deny myself the simpler pleasures of existence … particularly given that, as you so deliciously pointed out, all of this will end in oblivion and everything.”
Their love story fattens on time spent with an amazing supporting cast of friends, fantasies, idols, and parents hovering nearby to make their pain and fear bearable. (All sick people deserve such a cast in their lives.) All the blunt, persistent chatter about death permits readers to be horrified, comforted, and encouraged.
It’s an awkward but thorough introduction to cancer etiquette and faux-pas alike; as The Fault in Our Stars casts its gaze on a deep tenderness fraught by an ominous time limit, readers gawk alongside. Keep close your hankies.