Okay… so, I know I’m way behind the times here, but a friend lent me her copy of The Fault in Our Stars (by John Green) and I read it in less than 24 hours.
Everyone told me I was going to cry, and though I didn’t my heart hurt so much. (Full disclosure – I have never cried while reading a book and only cried 3 times watching television and 3-4 times watching movies. I’ve cried way more watching live theater than anything else… I just can’t seem to emote during works of fiction.)
For those of you who don’t know what the book is about, it’s told from the POV of Hazel – a 16-year-old who has cancer. (She carts around an oxygen tank and has trouble with her lungs.) Hazel becomes the object of affection of one of the boys at her support group (Augustus Waters). Though she tries to prevent herself from getting into a relationship with Augustus, young (but legit) love wins out and the two end up together. However, Augustus was/is sick too. (SUPER DUPER SPOILER ALERT) One of them does not make it to the end of the book.
I kind of loved most of this book. The witty banter between Hazel and Augustus reminded me of the fast-paced verbal sparing in Gilmore Girls, but infinitely better. Hazel and Augustus, though young, are wise beyond their years because they have been to hell and back (and then back to hell again) with their illnesses and treatments. Knowing that your book is going to end chapters before your peers’ has got to be one of the greatest mindfucks known to the terminally ill. And to deal with that as a teenager… I can’t even fathom it.
I thought Hazel was an admirable female protagonist. She was down on herself as most teenage girls are, but she also more than stood her ground when faced with adversity. It was heartbreaking to read the passages when she talked about not wanting to be a grenade – about how she doesn’t want to let too many people get too close because she doesn’t want a lot of casualties when she dies. But, when she realizes she is unable to keep Augustus at length (they’re friends, but he wants to be more than that) and finally lets herself love and be loved… well that’s heartbreaking too.
Augustus Waters is the kind of character who is easy to fall for. He’s a little bit of a bad boy (in the sense that he keeps mouthing at an unlit cigarette – saying it gives him power to put something that could kill him between his teeth, but not give the object the power to actually kill him), but he’s mostly a selfless person. His friendship with Isaac (a blind boy in their support group) is brotherly and supportive. His relationship with Hazel is enviable. In a perfect world, these two kids would be healthy and get to spend their late teens figuring out the ups and downs of falling in love. In TFIOS, however, their time is limited and Augustus is the first between them to own up to that ticking clock. He would rather love Hazel for a little while then never get to love her at all. He gives her his Wish but in return gets something so much more important to him. What tickles me pink is that a man wrote this book… usually these sensitive male characters are the brainchild of a female author (i.e. Harry, Ron, Peeta and Gale). But John Green is a friggin’ genius and allows Augustus to be equal parts strong and vulnerable, and in return lets Hazel (and the reader) fall so much in love with him that it makes your heart hurt when the truth finally comes out.
I figured out the ending of the book long before the protagonists did and it made me that much more sad knowing that all was never going to end well. I mean, Hazel and Augustus knew it wasn’t going to end well either – but it turned out to be a lot worse than everyone thought.
Reading TFIOS made me think back to the YA books I used to read when I was in elementary school and middle school. (I don’t think “YA” was actually a genre back then, but now that I think about it, I totally read YA books.) I used to read stuff by Lurlene McDaniel, who I like to think of as the Nicholas Sparks of my childhood. All her books dealt with mortality in youth. Someone usually had a traumatic injury or some sort of terminal illness and they or their boyfriend/girlfriend died far too young. (Perhaps this is why I’m continually drawn to angsty stories rather than fluffy ones, and why I assume relationships are going to end badly instead of happily ever after – oh my goodness, I might be having an epiphany as I type this.)
Though I could not cry for Hazel and Augustus, I wanted to reach through the pages of the book and comfort them. I saw a lot of myself in Hazel and it made me wish I had an Augustus Waters at some point in my life. They didn’t deserve the hands they had been dealt – and as a reader it was wholly frustrating to know that their love was unfolding on borrowed time.
I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so happy and so sad while reading a book. (The Harry Potter series perhaps…) I’m definitely going to check out John Green’s other books. I very much admired how he wrote his characters and progressed their plot lines. If only I could suck up some of that talent as I hold the pages of his books between my fingers.