Monday, August 6, 2012

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

The one down side of retiring from my job as a school librarian is the lack of ready access to new and exciting children's and young adult books. When highly acclaimed books are released, they are often hard to get at a library because the kids want to read them. I waited patiently for almost 8 months to read the new John Green book, The Fault in our Stars.  John Green is right up there in my estimation with Chris Crutcher, Terry Trueman, Laurie Halse Anderson and Jennifer Donnelly. Their books are not to be missed. 

TFIOS, as it is known over at Twitter, is Green's 4th book and is an unbelievable read. He has a knack of really getting into a teen's head and understanding and expressing the thoughts and feelings contained therein. He has managed to write a book about teens with cancer that still makes you laugh, look at the positive, and stave off the anger at the situation. We meet sixteen year old Hazel Grace Lancaster as she is negotiating/arguing with her mother about why she should not have to attend a cancer support group. Hazel has had thyroid cancer that spread to her lungs. It is only because of a very aggressive and experimental medication therapy that she is alive. Her lungs have been compromised and she is constantly on oxygen. She relents and goes to the support group where she meets Augustus Waters.  Augustus has had a leg amputated due to osteosarcoma but is in remission. Hazel also forges a friendship with Augustus' best friend, Isaac, who suffers from eye cancer and goes blind because of it. 

Hazel, who has not attended a physical school since the treatment's onset, is a reader and introduces Augustus to her favorite book. An Imperial Affliction by the fictional Dutch author Peter Van Houten is a novel about another girl with cancer. Augustus becomes as infatuated with the books as Hazel had and the two commiserate over Van Houten's audacity in ending the book mid-sentence with no resolve. Although Van Houten has never responded to Hazel's inquiries, he does to Augustus' by saying if he wanted to ascertain the answers to his questions, Augustus would need to travel to Amsterdam. Not wanting to go without Hazel, Augustus approaches the Wish foundation to see if it would be possible to include Hazel on his "wish" trip to Amsterdam. (Hazel had used her wish when she was first diagnosed with the terminal cancer.) And so, even despite a medical setback, the two along with Hazel's mother,  travel to meet Van Houten. It is a trip full of awakenings: the two are repulsed by Van Houten's meeting and realize that An Imperial Affliction was written about someone very close to him; Hazel and Augustus face the feelings that they have toward each other; and they must confront a worsening medical condition.

This book's character are believable and well developed. We are privy to the innermost thoughts of Hazel and August. But we also experience the feelings of those who surround them with love - their parents and close friends. Hazel's best friend from when she attended high school, Kaitlyn, depicts how superficial a friendship can be, especially when trying to avoid reality.  The ending of the book is not what you would expect and will not be given away here. John Green has breathed life and a zeal to live into characters that must face death on a daily basis. They are not going to be chained and bound to an existence of waiting. They will face the inevitable, but on their terms. Van Houten's reappearance at the end of the novel serves as the laces that will tie Hazel and Augustus' story together through eternity - “a forever within the numbered days." 

Autographing Looking for Alaska  for my students at Sackets Harbor
 I met John Green at the AASL Conference in Pittsburgh in 2005. He was in the early stages of promoting his book, Looking for Alaska, that eventually went on to win the Michael L. Printz Award. He was witty, personable, and engaging. I knew that his novels would forever be on my "must read" list.  The Fault in Our Stars is destined to be a Young Adult classic. It is a complex mix of philosophy, romance, teen angst, and laughter. Put a box of tissues near your reading chair. But don't miss this one.

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