“Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.” (4.5 stars)
Source- personal copy
Published by Penguin Books, January 2012
Paperback edition- 316 pages
Last year I read my first John Green novel, the much acclaimed Looking for Alaska. Whilst I enjoyed it and deemed it a so-so enough read, I certainly couldn’t see what all the fuss was about and I thought that it was possibly because it was a book aimed primarily at teenagers, an age that I passed oh, a good decade or so ago now.
Yikes. I’m getting old.
Anyways, I digress. After the Looking for Alaska experience (or a non-experience in my case?), I wasn’t particularly fussed about reading any more of Green’s books, despite all of the hype. I mean, if I’d picked one up in a charity shop, then fair enough; I just wouldn’t actively go out of my way to seek one out. That was until a friend kept going on and on and on about The Fault in Our Stars and how it was going to be made into a film and then we had the usual (for us) “you must read the book first” type chit-chat.
Cue me reluctantly agreeing to read it at some point… and so, when it was discounted with a certain on-line retailer, I added it into my basket as an afterthought. I’m in the process of reading another book for review at the moment and I must admit that I’m not particularly enjoying it; this was sat innocently on my bedside table and I thought ‘why the heck not, I’ll just read a couple of pages….’
AND OH THE EMOTIONS. THE EMOTIONS. HJDHDJKSUFISRKRJR
And that’s pretty much the way I felt after finishing this book.
Which I read in one sitting, by the way. Unable to relinquish my grip on it until the bitter (literally) end.
John Green: hats off to you, you turned me into a quivering, wailing mess in a way that I’ve not felt since reading The Green Mile.
TFIOS is a romance, but a romance with a difference. This ain’t none of your typical high school boy-meets-girl scenario. I mean, the boy does meet the girl obviously, but they meet at a support group for kids with cancer.
Yes, that’s right.
I’ve read some quite mean (if I’m honest) reviews that state TFIOS is emotionally manipulative. Er, it’s a book about kids with cancer, so yes, *newsflash*: it’s going to be emotional. But that’s life. Cancer is sadly a fact of life. Even more sadly, it happens to good people. And guess what? On the back of this book it says EXACTLY what the novel is about. If you are of that consensus then you don’t have to read it and feel ‘manipulated’ in any way. Everyone has a choice. I’m giving a warning here for people who are of that mindset- don’t read on in this review any further because I bloody loved this book and frankly I’m going to gush about it and all the reasons why. For me, personally, I think that this is an important book. It deals with relevant issues and it’s pretty good to have teen novels that don’t just have vampires and the usual high school dramas and cliquey fashion victims in them (I read a lot of Sweet Valley High as a kid, okay? *Cough*).
So back to the point: Hazel, terminally ill with thyroid cancer meets Augustus, in remission from osteosarcoma in small town Indiana. From that point on their friendship grows. And it is a wonderful, wonderful friendship. The characters are literally soul mates. It’s not just about the romance, but the connection between them is everything. They go from being merely kids defined by the nature of their illnesses to something so much more. They even bond over a freaking book. That’s why it’s so heartbreaking (and it is, obv)- Hazel could have found her happily ever after, but from the outset of the story, the reader knows that’s just not going to be the case. This book is all about the journey, about love, families and friendship and about how fragile life can really be. I feel that it was respectfully written and it should be meaningful to anyone who has ever lost someone important to them. That’s not to say it is for everyone of course, it may sadly be all too raw for some readers who have undergone personal losses of their own.
The characters are wonderfully crafted; John Green does a beautiful job in making them feel utterly real. I connected with them all, from Hazel and Augustus to Hazel’s fantastically loving parents. I loved Hazel’s mum and dad who are deservedly overprotective yet at the same time still encourage their daughter to reach for milestones that any non-sick teenager would. I think that’s why it was such a kicker when this book ended, because I’d grown to really care about what happened with them as individuals. They had real personalities, goals and dreams. The insightful conversations between Hazel and her mum literally made me want to weep; I think for me, personally, they were the most poignant bits in the whole story. In such a tear jerking book, I have absolutely no idea why this was the case, but hey.
The nature of cancer isn’t prettified in this story (if that is even the right word to use…?). Green doesn’t hold back on how it makes people feel and the impact it has on both the sufferer and those around them, the medication, the pain, the grieving for a life that just cannot be. That said, it isn’t all about the frightening and thought-provoking aspects, though that is certainly a large part of it. There is some humour and witty dialogue that lifted the storyline too- some gallows humour, so to speak, and a great degree of perceptiveness entangled in all of that, which is what prevented this story from being a total sob-fest.
And now, for a few other teeny bits that bugged me, ever-so-slightly: this is very much a ‘tell not show’ kind of book, and by that I mean that Hazel constantly feels the need to state how she is feeling, rather than letting her emotions (particularly towards other people) be conveyed through mere actions alone.
Sometimes I read books about teenagers where they don’t sound anything like teenagers and it always annoys the crap out of me. Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares was one such recent example; my how it bugged me. TFIOS can admittedly be a bit the same way in places- Hazel, Augustus and their peers sound way older than their years on occaision and have some rather in-depth, philosophical conversations: however, I attributed this to their illnesses and the fact that they have had to grow up faster than other teenagers as a consequence.
Though The Fault in Our Stars is certainly not without its (few) flaws, I found it to be a really moving reading experience and I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending it to people outside of its young adult audience bracket either. Admittedly, those are the readers who are going to relate to Hazel and Augustus a bit better, but this is a book that will resonate with people of any age range. The only downside is, I honestly don’t see how the film can be better than the book- so I’m not sure if I want to watch it now!