Friday, December 21, 2012

The yoke of inauspicious stars


 Books about kids with cancer are pretty high up on my list of things I don’t generally want to read. That does not mean I think cancer is an inappropriate topic for fiction. It’s just so sad.

So I didn’t read The Fault in Our Stars by John Green when it first came out earlier this year, even though it got rave reviews from everyone. As the months went by it continued to get great reviews, and people I knew and trusted continued to love it and to talk about how good it is. Finally I was intrigued enough by what I can only describe as an avalanche of good buzz, and I picked it up.

It is really, really good.

Hazel is an intelligent, witty 16-year-old girl, who is also a terminal cancer patient. Her tumors aren’t growing, but they’re not in remission, either. She and her parents know she may not have much time.

At a cancer support group, she meets Augustus, a very cute, equally smart boy. They swap favorite books. They discuss everything from video games to family pressures to the meaning of life and the afterlife. They become friends - the best of friends.

Because they have both confronted death, Hazel and Augustus are fearless about painful topics - indeed, they find that there are things they can only talk about with each other, topics that discomfort their healthier friends and family. And they eventually become more than friends, too:

Augustus Waters read to me while Mom, making lunch, listened in … As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once. 

The Fault in Our Stars is extremely sad. But it’s overflowing with joy, too; it made me cry, but sometimes with happiness. Hazel and Gus are clever, self-aware, hilarious observers of the absurdity as well as the tragedy of their situation. The writing is so good, what could be a heavy tear-jerker actually feels as light as air.

I’m so glad I read it at last.

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