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A Review: The Fault in our Stars

The Fault in Our StarsThe Fault in Our Stars by John Green
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I tread lightly when venturing into "terminal disease" territory when it comes to books, movies, or TV shows. I approach the work (regardless of the medium) with more than a bit of caution. I don't want something that will be schmaltzy or emotionally manipulative. I don't want anything that shies away from the truth. More importantly, I'm worried that the story will resonate so clearly, it will upset me emotionally. With all of this in mind, I dug in to The Fault in our Stars with some degree of cautious optimism. I had heard Scott Simon's interview with John Green on Weekend Edition one Saturday and bought the book the following week. Green quotes the book in his interview, stating, "There is only one thing in this world [worse] than biting it from cancer when you're sixteen, and that's having a kid who bites it from cancer." With that quote, I understood fairly well that the author had done his research, knew what he was getting into,and wasn't going to shy away from the truth.

Once I started reading The Fault in our Stars, I couldn't put it down. From the very beginning, we are introduced to Hazel, a teenage cancer patient who has been battling disease for nearly half of her short life. In her narrative, I saw the mental and physical challenges that every cancer patient or cancer parent battles on a daily basis: that balance between finding support and seeking solace in depression, living one's life constantly on the edge of a terminal diagnosis, watching friends and family suffer at your expense, and surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals who may suffer the same fate. It's dangerous territory. You find yourself empathizing with people who face similar trials but you also face the reality that these people may leave your circle of friends. They may get sicker. They may face a recurrence. They might die and leave you behind. Worse: you might die and inflict additional pain and suffering on their lives.

All of these feelings are addressed in Hazel's relationships with her teenage peers, her parents, and her doctors. At one point, her mother is pushing Hazel towards more social relationships and Hazel resists. After further questioning, Hazel responds, "I'm like...a grenade, Mom. I'm a grenade and at some point I'm going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties, okay?" It is with that transparent honesty that Green addresses the issues of pediatric cancer that I've never seen in literature before. It's refreshing.

As Hazel's relationship with fellow teenage cancer survivor Augustus develops, their connecting point is a fictional work of literature that ties all of the characters together. Hazel and Gus search for information about An Imperial Affliction, a novel by the fictional Peter Van Houten. Van Houten's book about a female protagonist with cancer (coincidentally also named after a line from very "meta") drives the characters in their search for meaning, specifically: will the lives of those we hold so dear continue after we are gone? What happens "after"? How do we keep those we love from being hurt in this process? How do we appreciate today when the future is so volatile?

Tough stuff for teenagers to tackle.

In the end, I found an affinity for all of the characters in the book. I found myself reliving feelings (good and bad) around all of those experiences related to Charlotte's life, illness and death. This book more than lived up to my strict standards for the genre. It is a book I recommend as both a well crafted tale and a powerful story.

View all my reviews

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