Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult
Publisher: Dutton (part of Penguin)
What can I say? Or more's to the point, what can I say that hasn't already been said by everyone else? The Fault in our Stars is a remarkable book that leaves the reader feeling both grief and joy in equal quantities - not to mention the urge to read it again. Immediately.
Hazel is 16 and has terminal cancer. At a support group, which she hates for its cliched simplicity and counting down of souls lost, she meets Augustus Waters - a 17 year old survivor of bone cancer. Hazel and Augustus soon become friends and it is clear both would like to be more. Hazel is reluctant to move from simple friendship to a love affair, knowing she will die and leave Augustus, who has already lost one girlfriend to cancer, behind.
The pair introduce each other to the things that keep them going day after day. For Augustus it is video games in which he can become the hero and save the day, for Hazel it is a novel about a girl who is dying that simply ends mid-sentence. The author has never written another book and Hazel is desperate to find out what happened to the other characters. She reads the book repeatedly, writing to the author regularly asking for a sequel but has no luck.
Hazel is a realistic and likeable teenage girl. At times stroppy and unreasonable, at others deep and compassionate she wants nothing more than to just be a typical teenager and throw a tantrum, storm to her bedroom and slam the door. Sadly it's not an option open to her. Augustus is believable and heart breaking in his refusal to be defined by his illness.
There's an old writing rule that says you should write what you know - well unless John Green was once a 16 year old girl dying of cancer he just disproved the necessity for this rule (at least on a very literal level - we all do after all know pain). Green's writing is sharp and to the point - a lot like Hazel - and impossible to ignore, dealing at once with both the pain of being a teen facing a truth few of us are ever prepared to even consider let alone accept: that of our own mortality, and the agony of a parent forced to watch as their child fights a disease that changes the rules with frustrating regularity.
Green deals with the teenage romance without any condescension or patronising; he recognises and treats it with the respect it deserves. Love after all does not simply become acceptable because of the date on a birth certificate, in particular when the time in which you have to experience that love may be somewhat limited.
If there are any faults in The Fault in our Stars, and I certainly couldn't find any, they are well hidden by the beauty of the story and the engaging characters. The ending is painful and beautiful - as endings in these situations so often are.
The Fault in our Stars is one of those books that as a reader, I can not wait to read again, and as a writer I wish I had written.
Best age group: 15+