John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars is another book that appeared on so many must-read lists in the last year or two. So onto the library’s waiting list I went. I went through a phase when I was about ten where I was a fan of Lurlene McDaniel and her many novels about teens dealing with serious illnesses, debilitating accidents, and love. But after a point, they became not just predictable, but predictable in a depressing way (I think I only read two or three books where none of the characters died). So going into The Fault in Our Stars, I knew pretty early on exactly what was going to happen. Whether it’s just been long enough since I stopped reading those books (fifteen years or more) or that I went in knowing how easily I could wind up disappointed, but I found The Fault in Our Stars quite compelling and sentimental but not in an annoying or preachy way.
Hazel Lancaster knows she’s living on borrowed time when she heads to a support group for teens living with cancer diagnoses. When she meets Augustus Waters one week, she finds it difficult to open up to him completely because she doesn’t want to hurt him even though he knows better than others what he’s in for as far as her illness is concerned. Confronting mortality and the roller coaster of teenage hormones, the voices John Green gives to his characters, narrator Hazel in particular, are fresh and keep the novel grounded.
While much of the novel does revolve around the characters dealing with their diseases, it doesn’t dominate the story. The question of what comes next is deftly dealt with through the very relatable mission Hazel and Augustus undertake to discover what happens after the sudden ending of a book they bond over. Though Hazel has written to the reclusive author several times, it isn’t until she gets Augustus to read it that he is able to get a response using a different approach. But finding the answers they seek proves more difficult, and not because of their illness.
It is really difficult to strike the right note in books dealing with terminal illness, especially when the story is about and marketed towards a young adult audience. But John Green does just that in The Fault in Our Stars. It’s sweet but not to the point where it would give you a cavity and it’s predictable but not in a way that’s boring. Given my familiarity with the genre and how little I ever cried over the Lurlene McDaniel books (which were meant to make the reader cry), I was a little surprised that I cried while reading The Fault in Our Stars. I think part of it is that cliché of having lived and experienced things in the last fifteen years that make the novel resonate in ways it never would have before (having known people who have been sick like that, having lost teenage classmates to accidents). But I think more of it is that Green managed to make a very familiar and done-before story feel like it hadn’t been done before.