Diagnosed with cancer at the age of 12, Hazel Grace had prepared herself for the inevitable. But thanks to an experimental drug she began taking at the age of 14, Hazel is now 16 years old and living on what she sees as borrowed time. Forced to use an oxygen tank because of damage to her lungs, Hazel lives withdrawn from her old life, re-reading her favorite book time and again, attending a few classes at community college and being cared for by her mother. It’s her mother who forces Hazel to attend a cancer survivor support group weekly at a local church. It’s here that she meets Augustus “Gus” Waters, who lost a leg and his basketball career to cancer, but is now in full remissions.
Despite Hazel’s assertion that she’s a “human hand grenade” she can’t discourage Gus from pursuing her and slowly Hazel beings to fall for Gus as well.
John Green’s tragic love story, The Fault in Our Stars is a moving example of why you should never judge a book by its cover–or the section of the bookstore or library that marketing campaigns deems appropriate. Green earns every single emotional moment in the story by creating characters you genuinely care about and like, even if they have some unlike-able moments. Green allows us to understand why Hazel resists Gus at first (the fact that she resembles an old girlfriend who was also a cancer patient and put Gus through the emotional wringer is a huge early obstacle) but slowly begins to fall for Gus in his continuing quest to get to know more about the girl with the oxygen tank.
Gus even decides he will the novel’s version of Make A Wish to help Hazel’s dream come true–he’ll use his wish to get the two to Amsterdam to meet the reclusive novelist that wrote her favorite book. Hazel wants to know what happened to certain character after the final page was turned and the author has refused to write a sequel or talk about the novel for years.
I’ve read most of John Green’s offerings for young adult readers in the past and have been consistently impressed by the authentic voice he finds for each of his teenage characters. Stars is no exception to this. In fact, it’s the best novel by Green I’ve read to date. The romance between Gus and Hazel is authentic and superbly realized. Conversations about hit movies, favorite novels and old swing sets ring absolutely authentic across the course of the novel. It’s a novel that demands each next page be turned, each new chapter read and even though there are some of the plot developments are fully expected (Hazel expects her meeting with the author to answer all her questions about the book, but turns out to be a less than satisfactory experience for all involved), Green still makes them feel earned, real and authentic.
In relating Hazel’s love of her favorite book and its abrupt end that doesn’t answer all the questions it could, Green foreshadows exactly how Stars will and should end. It’s a satisfying read that doesn’t wrap up every thread in a nice neat bow. Green leaves a door open that he could revisit Hazel someday, but to do so isn’t necessary.
And if you’re worried that this novel is being marketed in the young adult section of the book world, don’t be. To pass over this book for that reason is to miss one of the better books I’ve rea in a long time. Engaging, page-turning and captivating, The Fault in Our Stars earns every bit of the praise I’ve seen heaped on it.