Review written by Rachel Mann
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I wish John Green’s novels had been around when I was a teenager. His characters are too-smart, knowing, sassy, deeply-feeling young people. They are intense, which is exactly how I remember myself at seventeen. Alas, Green’s books came too late for me, but they undoubtedly provide a resonant reflection of the emotional lives of today’s teens, as he is a popular and award-winning writer of young adult novels.
In The Fault in Our Stars, Hazel and Augustus meet in Support Group, a gathering of adolescent cancer patients in a church basement. The meeting ends each week with a reading of a list of deceased children who used to be part of the group. Hazel observes dryly: “It was a long list. The world contains a lot of dead people.” Hazel almost died at the age of fourteen, only to be given a second chance by an experimental drug that keeps her alive but will never cure her completely. Now, at sixteen, she lives with a heaviness that stems from a dismal self-knowledge: that of her own mortality. Adolescence is a time of discovery, when children search for their adult selves. What happens to an adolescent who has no hope of becoming an adult? What does she search for?
It’s hard to describe this novel without it sounding depressing. But Hazel and Augustus’s irreverence adds a welcome lightness. They live with cancer every day, so they don’t pity themselves or each other. Experiencing Augustus’s terrible driving the first time (he has a prosthetic leg), Hazel declares that there’s only one reason he could have passed his drivers test: “cancer perk….the little things cancer kids get that regular kids don’t: basketballs signed by sports heroes, free passes on late homework, unearned drivers licenses, etc.”
The two bond over Hazel’s favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, which she treasures because “the author, Peter Van Houten, seemed to understand me in weird and impossible ways.” It is a story of an adolescent girl with cancer, and Hazel can’t get over how exactly right the book is. “It’s not a cancer book,” she says, “because cancer books suck.” The book is “honest about all of it the way no one really else is.” Gradually, Augustus himself replaces Hazel’s favorite book as the source of honesty and mutual understanding that she desperately needs in her life.
The Fault in Our Stars is a story about the existential search for meaning in this world, but it is also a story about the sheer luck of finding someone who really understands you. Green’s novel gets it just right.