I put off reading THE FAULT IN OUR STARS despite the glowing reviews, despite my loving everything John Green writes, despite knowing I would love this one, too.
The thing is it’s about kids with cancer. I’ve had cancer. I’ve had loved ones with cancer. Some survived, some did not. And this year involved a scare for my daughter and another one for me. So, yeah, not wanting to wallow in it.
But I changed my mind and picked up a copy. I’m so glad I did.
My reaction in the opening pages was to laugh out loud at the biting wit that is always part of Green’s voice. I love, love, love Hazel Grace as narrator. Like this: “Whenever you read a cancer booklet or website or whatever they always list depression among the side effects of cancer. But, in fact, depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying.”
Gallows humor, perhaps, but it serves a purpose when one is faced with possible early demise. A friend of mine who died of the same cancer I’ve fought told me once that he’d accepted an abbreviated version of his life. It was an elegant thing to say, but I realized with time, with experience, with grief and with terror that we never really accept it. There are moments of grace and moments of rage. We sail through it as best we can.
As do the characters in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, who feel like real people to me. That’s how authentic Green’s voice is.
Here Hazel responds to Augustus, a boy in her cancer support group who says he fears oblivion. She gives quite a speech that concludes with: “There was a time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it. God knows that’s what everyone else does.”
Did I say how much I love John Green? Did I say how wicked smart he is? Need I say he encourages readers to be smart, too?
The tale becomes more bittersweet as Hazel’s friendship blossoms with Augustus. I love this thought of Hazel’s as he reads to her: “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once.”
They use his cancer-charity Wish to travel to Amsterdam to follow a dream. While there they make a physically and emotionally difficult visit to the Anne Frank house. A scene when they’d struggled upstairs to the top of the house brought tears to my eyes: “ ‘Augustus Waters,’ I said, looking up at him, thinking that you cannot kiss anyone in the Anne Frank House, and then thinking that Anne Frank, after all, kissed someone in the Anne Frank House, and that she would probably like nothing more than for her home to have become a place where the young and irreparably broken sink into love.”
By the last third of this book, I was crying. Not surprising. But I want to emphasize that this book is not maudlin.
Thank you, John Green, for the laughter and the tears and the truth about living and dying.