Humans are, above everything, a veritable banquet of difference. We come in a variety of colours and we can speak many languages – even the molecules that create us are radically different from you to the person standing next to you at the bus stop. But, we all of us share a common love of humour and tragedy. None of us fail to laugh at the clown and all of us poke the dead bird with a stick or gape at the source of a motorway tailback.
It is that intrinsic need which drives our emotional landscape. We need these two polar opposites in which to live our lives. These aspects come naturally to us, we naturally laugh at jokes and we naturally dwell on our mortality and tragedy. It’s that habit we have as people of poking the bruise just to check that it still hurts; it tells us we are alive. Reading The Fault In Our Stars is the proverbial bruise.
“That’s the thing about pain…it demands to be felt.”
This is only the opening of the third paragraph of my review and I can safely say, hand on heart, that this is my new favourite book. I finished it about four hours ago and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. I actually want to open it and start again, because it doesn’t feel right that I’m not reading it. Books that make you feel that way do so because they hold power, a power to tap into those primal feelings and emotions that drive us and make us who we are.
The novel deals with issues that I hold dear to my heart, issues that I have had direct contact with. I can say with a great deal of confidence that John Green has depicted the sadness and utter devastation of life perfectly within the 313 succinct pages. There is not one wasted word, not one page falters and each one is charged with raw emotion.
The novel deals with the aforementioned characters and their struggles with childhood cancer, how they cope and live and above all, love. They meet in support group, Gus is there to support his friend and is clear of cancer. They instantly become entwined. Each character is wonderful on their own, but as a unit they are perfect.
“Support Group featured a rotating cast of characters in various states of tumor-driven unwellness. Why did the cast rotate? A side effect of dying.”
Hazel is smart and witty, but the emotional pivot point of the book. Gus is roguishly confident and outlandishly funny. They begin a friendship that transcends their bond through cancer and it is their relationship that is the core here. Gus easily became my favourite character with his witty metaphors for the world around him and how nothing would stop him from living his life the way he wanted to.
This is a painful book to read, but it’s also riotously funny. I won’t fall on the adage of laughter being the best medicine, but some people who suffer find that their sense of humour is the thing that never deserts them. John Green writes funny dialogue that is razor sharp and occasionally acerbic, but it fits wonderfully. It has a comfortable banter that makes each line, despite its bluntness, feel like a pain relief. It is the perfect contrast to the upset caused by the topics contained within.
Within the first 50 pages I’d laughed out loud several times, which I never do. The humour is always well placed, too. There was a moment near the end of the book where the lump was in my throat and suddenly a joke fell from a characters mouth and it cushioned the blow. This is writing that is beyond brilliant.
“I told Augustus the broad outline of my miracle: diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer when I was thirteen. (I didn’t tell him that the diagnosis came three months after I got my first period. Like: Congratulations! You’re a woman. Now die.)”
The writing brilliance is also leant to the cast who feel utterly genuine and affable. As a reader you are drawn in by their speech and feeling for each other, this is of course a double edged sword, as their pain hits you hard. The love between Hazel and Gus is lovely but Hazel fears that she has become a handgrenade, meaning when she inevitably dies everyone around her will be hit with emotional fragmentation. We fear for their love, their bond.
“I’m a grenade and at some point I’m going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties, okay?”
Green never shies away from the pain. His depictions of someone slowly degrading as cancer sweeps through them is terrifying and heartbreaking. Whenever Hazel is described as dragging her oxygen tank around with her it feels like a metaphor for her life as she lives with cancer omnipresent and for the world to view.
The book brims with anger and frustration, too. We all know that what is described isn’t fair but Green hammers it home by giving the characters such bold voices.
It is wonderful to find a novel that is brave enough to deal with the anger of disease and the unfair finality of death, but to find it in a book for teens is all the more special. This isn’t a patronising novel that sugar coats anything under a saccharine layer. It is a refreshing book that will make you laugh and cry in equal measure, it will make you think about life and, of course, death. So we poke the bruise and reaffirm our feelings, we know that we’re alive.
“Books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.”