Saturday, 19 January 2013
The Fault in Our Stars
Hazel, our chief character, is one of those teenagers you only really see in books and films (the sort my shy, bookish adolescent self longed to be). Smart, well-read and worldly, she has been living with terminal cancer since she was 13. A drug trial has proven somewhat miraculous and has extended her years; however, she will never get better and she lives with the realities of oxygen tanks, isolation from her schoolfriends and regular emergency dashes to hospital. Part of her world is attendance at a cancer support group and it is here she meets the handsome, equally smart and worldly cancer survivor Augustus Waters.
Augustus is also one of those books-and-films teenagers, a dashing, youthful, sporty prince. As a character, he is irresistible and you cannot help fall for him alongside Hazel. Although you know fate is against them, I was rooting for Hazel and Gus, hoping that she had not seen her last miracle. This was not only for the sake of our chief protagonists but also for their parents, who are strong supporting characters. In their support and suffering, the parents add a vital emotional element beyond the central plot of Hazel and Gus. Metaphors of violent destruction and war are used to bring home the impact of the loss of a child, with Otto Frank also serving as a timely reminder at a crucial turning point.
John Green's characters were perfect; although not self-pitying, they still felt and acknowledged their pain. There are no martyrs, but strong characters who have human limits. Humour carries this story and for the first half I was amused and moved as Hazel and Gus' relationship blossomed. John Green's attention to the little details rather than the big gestures made their romance true and at times made it easy for me to forget the big dark cloud that hangs over them. Alas, eventually said big dark cloud catches up with our young lovers, and despite knowing it was their particular destiny, it still hit me hard. I would advise any reader to ensure they don't make the same mistake I did - do not read the latter half of this novel without a tissue nearby!
Although the conclusion brought countless tears to my eyes, I loved this book for its lack of melodrama despite the subject matter. Again, Green's focus on the little details of death and dying moved me rather than big, sentimental moments. A truly expert touch from a great writer.
So is this a good rush hour read? It is a very well written novel and I truly lost myself in the world of Hazel and Augustus. Since starting the first few pages I've been raving to anyone who'll listen about how much I've enjoyed it. However, it did cause me a few awkward public transport moments. These included needing to immediately stop reading, look to the sky and repeat the mantra "it's just a story, it's not real" over and over in my head to prevent full on sobbing on the Tube. So, if you don't mind the occasional strange look from your fellow commuters, I would arm yourself with some Kleenex and absorb yourself in this brilliant book.
(Image taken from http://www.penguin.co.uk/nf/Book/BookDisplay/0,,9780141345659,00.html# - available in paperback, hardback or Kindle edition from http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0141345659)