If you pick up a John Green book, you might expect to find lovesick teenagers or high school pranksters. But what you really should expect is nothing but literary gold.
Green delivers all of the above in his highly anticipated fourth novel, The Fault in Our Stars.
It’s no secret that I am a huge John Green fan. Ever since I read Looking for Alaska in college, I’ve been obsessed with Green’s work. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I followed the guy around for 30 minutes at an American Library Association conference in Washington, D.C. just so I could get a picture with him. Green’s writing is something that is both uniquely satisfying and universally appealing at the same time. He presents characters that are highly intelligent yet still relatable; he doesn’t dumb down his writing for the lowest common denominator.
Although I was excited to finally pick up The Fault in Our Stars, I still found myself skeptical of Green’s newest attempt to make me cry. In his previous work, Green has always written from the perspective of a teenage boy. In Stars, we meet Hazel Grace Lancaster. Who is a girl. Which John Green is not. Could he pull it off? Was I going to believe this story was from Hazel’s teenage-girl point of view, knowing that it was written by a grown man?
Like I said, I expect nothing but greatness from John Green, and in Stars, he delivers.
Hazel is a 16-year-old girl with terminal cancer who has to live her life attached to an oxygen tank because her lungs can no longer fully support her. At her parents’ request, Hazel joins a “Cancer Kid Support Group” so she can socialize and get out of the house. In the support group, Hazel meets Augustus Waters, a super-hot 17-year-old boy whose cancer is in remission. Also, he only has one leg.
Hazel and Augustus become friends and eventually have a short romance while in pursuit of the author of Hazel’s favorite book, An Imperial Affliction. The fictional book-within-a-book by fictional author Peter Van Houten is the account of a girl with cancer who lives her life until the story suddenly ends in the middle of a sentence. Hazel is desperate to know what happens after this abrupt ending.
Green paints a heartbreakingly blunt picture of cancer and how different families deal with the effects of the disease. I saw Green speak at this year’s ALA Midwinter Meeting, and I remember him saying that he didn’t set out to write a book about cancer. This was simply a book about a girl and a boy, and they happen to have cancer.
Although this might be true, I am concerned that this may be forever labeled John Green’s “cancer” book. Does it matter? I don’t think the type of disease affects the greatness of the book; characters need to have some kind of obstacle for the story to be interesting. But this is an obstacle that many people in real life are challenged with, and I think Green presented it in a very realistic way. The novel is also sprinkled with Green’s trademark humor, which often serves to lighten the mood.
In a way, I’m not as impressed with this book as I had hoped to be. Of course it’s a good book. John Green wrote it. John Green writes good books. I didn’t feel like it was a challenge for him to relate the tragic story of our main characters. I guess my heart will just always belong to Looking for Alaska.
Interestingly enough, The Fault in Our Stars was just listed as one of NPR’s 100 Best-Ever Teen Books. Check out the list and see if you agree!
About the Author
Megan Garrett is the librarian at the Sugar Creek Branch of the Kansas City Public Library. She also writes book reviews for the Independence Examiner newspaper.