I was simply seeing this book everywhere. Everyone seemed to love it. So I added it to the Best Books TBR (to be read) and put it out of my head. Until a friend posted on Facebook that her copy was looking for a home. I bumped it up on the TBR queue, I picked it up, it read extremely fast, and now here we are at yet another review.
It’s hard to review a book like this. It’s a difficult book, all ’round. It is, after all, about terminal cancer and teenagers: it’s about kids dying. So you want to treat it carefully and kindly and not offend any dying kids. On the other hand, it is a book by a guy who is not dying of cancer. It is fiction. It is literature. So you want to review it the same way you might any other book.
Let me just say this before I get truly started. The content will very most likely make you cry or maybe just grieve in some way. I would not recommend it for someone actually with terminal cancer or even going through the cancer battle with someone else. You might disagree with me, but I think the book is anything but a helpful support for a current cancer patient, even though they be in the YA category. I would suggest like tens or hundred of books before this one, in that case.
Now for the “real” review. And let’s just hit it straight from my first impression on the table at Barnes & Noble. Terrible cover. Terrible title. In fact, I dislike the cover so much, I have included a photo for an option (done by some person on the internet whose identity I could not discover) to the right. Just so you can see what the cover should look like. I think the cover is a lovely shade of blue, yes, but so over-the-top ambiguous. This isn’t a book about nothing. In fact it is a very specific sort of book. The kind of book you want to go into with eyes wide open. So why be so vague? And not even visually balanced. And did anyone in the whole, wide world read the nearly invisible words telling us this author is a NYTimes bestseller or that the book is funny and tragic? Because I sure didn’t. As for the title, just a little more ambiguity thrown in with pretty awkward grammar that registers later in your memory as “It was some sort of phrase riddled with prepositions and having a faint hint of something philosophical.” Therefore, I was not expecting much.
I really thought it was a better-than-decent book.
On one hand, it is full of contradictions, unrealistic portrayal of the teen age group, and lacks a little in the plot department. I don’t know how much I can expound on this. Maybe I’ll repeat it. Characters are inconsistent at times. Teenagers are portrayed (as is somewhat popular) much wiser, sophisticated, and cooler than they ever are (even for those that have been confronted with tragedy, etc.). Since this is fiction realism, it didn’t work right for me. The plot is meandering, and you’re rarely sure where you are headed… yet you always sort of know what is happening overall long before you get there.
On the other hand, it is addictive and full of wonderful moments. The writing does sparkle every once in awhile. You breeze through the thing and you don’t want to put it down until you’ve finished.
Warning: teen sex. Sorry, but I do not take teen sex lightly. Nor do I really want to read about it. We’re not talking graphic stuff here, and you see it coming from like 100 pages off… It does make you wonder about what rules you might break if you or your child had terminal cancer. Just know that it’s there. I, for one, could have done without it.
Another warning of sorts: Everything in this book is about cancer. I mean everything. It sorta makes sense, because it is YA. And in case you didn’t know the specs for the YA genre, it’s not just about age of characters or a maturity rating. YA books are also introspective, sometimes suffocatingly so. This book falls into that “suffocatingly so” category. There was never a moment of Hazel’s story (or even her day, presumably) that wasn’t about herself and about cancer. Very high school. I was just longing for Hazel to reach outside of herself. Longing. I suppose that’s where Augustus Waters comes in, but he just adds another layer of self-preoccupation in the disguise of a friendship/love story.
And one last note: despite what some others claim, this book is not humorous. At best, it’s wry. The main character is mildly funny in a very dry and ironic way. But I seriously doubt you will do more than that little breath of air that escapes your nose when something is sorta humorous. It’s a drama, and all good dramas have some humor.
To be fair, let’s include this: John Green was listed in 2014 as one of the world’s 100 most influential people. The Fault In Our Stars was a #1 NYTimes bestseller, and the movie opened at box offices at #1, as well. Green has won no less than seven other books awards in his (so far) short career. His other books include Looking for Alaska (2005), An Abundance of Katherines (2006), and Paper Towns (2008). All of them are YA, but I hear great things about Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns (which is being made into a movie).
Overall, it’s not like I’m running out to read more John Green, although I hear he has better. But it was a very interesting read and for the most part I would not discourage people from reading it.
I had every intention of watching and reviewing the movie for you, but getting my hands on an affordable rental copy seems to be a dead end. If I decide to re-add DVD discs to my Netflix soon, I will review it and post the review here. Until then, Redbox lies.
“Neither novels nor their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter, which is sort of the foundational assumption of our species” (p -1).
“But, in fact, depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying” (p3).
“…waiting, as we all do, for the sword of Damocles to give him the relief that he escaped lo those many years ago when cancer took both of his nuts but spared what only the most generous soul would call his life. AND YOU TOO MIGHT BE SO LUCKY!” (p5).
“There is only one thing in this world shittier than biting it from cancer when you’re sixteen, and that’s having a kid who bites it from cancer” (p8).
“‘I bought them a minute. Maybe that’s the minute that buys them an hour, which is the hour that buys them a year. No one’s gonna buy them forever, Hazel Grace, but my life bought them a minute. And that’s not nothing'” (p59).
“‘Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin'” (p157).
“You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how to tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice” (p209).
“…only now that I loved a grenade did I understand the foolishness of trying to save others from my own impending fragmentation: I couldn’t unlove Augustus Waters. And I didn’t want to” (p214).
“All I know of heaven and all I know of death is in this park: an elegant universe in ceaseless motion teeming with ruined ruins and screaming children” (p308).