“Boys do not have a monopoly on the Staring Business, after all. So I looked him over…and soon it was a staring contest. After a while the boy smiled, and then finally his blue eyes glanced away. When he looked back at me, I flicked my eyebrows up to say, I win.” So begins the tragic comedy of Hazel and Augustus’s love affair. He is seventeen and in remission from osteosarcoma and has a prosthetic to show for it. She is sixteen and terminal, diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer “…three months after I got my first period. Like: Congratulations! You’re a woman. Now die.” They meet sort of cute in a support group, after being introduced by a mutual friend whose cancer will soon render him blind. Though between them they are missing a leg and a great deal of lung capacity, their humor is still intact. Hazel: “I looked down my blouse at my chest. ‘Keep your shit together,’ I whispered to my lungs.” Augustus: “I didn’t cut this fella off for the sheer unadulterated pleasure of it, although it is an excellent weight loss strategy. Legs are heavy!” Though they are very different, they bond over their shared love of cancer perks,(“little things cancer kids get that regular kids don’t: basketballs signed by sports heroes, free passes on late homework, unearned driver’s licenses, etc.”) impromptu picnics and an abruptly ending novel by a crazy private author who lives in Amsterdam. Hazel doesn’t want to be the “grenade” that destroys Augustus’s life when she goes. But his gallows humor, big blue eyes and lanky, one leg frame are impossible to resist. And when Augustus plans a wild trip that will fulfill one of Hazel’s life long dreams, she finally gives in to her feelings. Hazel know that her future is short, and she thinks she’s prepared for what comes next. But it turns out that loving Augustus is more painful than any life-sucking tumor. Friends, I was undone by this novel. I had the pleasure of being on the Printz Committee that chose Looking for Alaska as the best YA title of 2005, and I have a been a raving fan of John Green’s work ever since. He understands how smart teens are, and never condescends to you in his fiction. (I mean, the man actually mentions Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in this book, a concept I wasn’t familiar with until my college freshman Intro. to Psychology class.) But I was not ready for the sweet, simple power of this story that is more about life, love and the pursuit of awesomeness than it is about cancer. I was not ready for the zen, steady eddie-ness that is Hazel or the articulate, video-game obsessed whirlwind that is Augustus. And once having met them, traveled with them and cried with them, I certainly wasn’t ready to let them go. My one regret about this book is that I read it too fast. I can read it again, but it won’t be like the first time. Hazel, despite her acceptance of her fate, ”liked being a person. I wanted to keep at it.” Thankfully, she always will within the pages of this exquisitely painful and painfully funny novel. Read it soon–just not too fast.
The Fault in Our Stars by John Green