Having avoided this book for a while, I finally succumbed to my sister’s appeals to read it when I received it as a Christmas gift. I had previously avoided this ‘cancer book’, assuming that it was just another of the supposedly poignant but ultimately sappy tales of illness that are unyieldingly popular.
Inspired by Green’s work with young cancer patients, The Fault in Our Stars follows the life of Hazel Grace Lancaster, a fifteen year old girl whose terminal cancer has left her reliant on an oxygen tank to breathe. However, despite its subject matter, Green’s bestselling novel is very different to the host of malady-driven books that reside on the quick-read shelves in bookshops (the ones that share the same afflicted children staring out from their covers, headed by a comic sans title and reviews promising that said book is ‘moving’ and ‘heartwarming’).
First a warning. Should you begin to read Green’s tale of the life of Hazel and her inordinately eloquent friend Augustus Waters, be prepared for them to initially annoy the hell out of you! For the first fifty pages or so, you will find yourself perpetually distracted by their exceedingly articulate way of speaking. Having experienced more hardship than many twice their age, the characters can be expected to be a little wiser than their ‘ordinary’ peers. Nonetheless, their sharp-witted quips and astute attempts to philosophise great truths of humanity seem precocious in the mouths of teenagers. This, coupled with Augustus’ habit of wielding an unlit cigarette as a ‘metaphor’ means that, at the novel’s outset, the characters veer towards pretentious rather than clever.
Despite this, as the story becomes more established, it is possible to look past their awkward turns of phrase. Before too long, Augustus’ quick witticisms and Hazel’s shrewd observations become little more quirks of their personality. Grounded by the more realistic secondary characters, such as the wonderfully juvenile Isaac, the pair’s journey offers an insight into both the harsh realities of living with cancer and the funny side of being an awkward teenager.
Most importantly, although Hazel’s illness permeates every aspect of her life (from walking to sleeping), unlike her oxygen tank, her illness doesn’t drag behind every aspect of the book. Green succeeds in finding lightness and even humour in Hazel’s condition, mocking the overly-attentive interactions that she, and the other children at her support group, encounter due to their illnesses. This refreshing take on Hazel’s disease highlights that, although terminal, her cancer does not define her. In fact, her day-to-day life, spent reading books for her English degree and watching reruns of America’s Next Top Model, is a little too familiar…
Would I have liked The Fault in Our Stars more if it had been around five years ago? Probably. It’s portrayal of oh-so misunderstood teens certainly cries out to an adolescent audience. Nonetheless, despite the protagonists’ awkward turns of phrase, Green’s book is an intelligent and, dare I say it, a genuinely heartwarming tale.
Emma Holifield, Books Editorbookmark me