THE FAULT IN OUR STARS dismantled me. The power of its writing is nearly unmatched in my eyes. John Green expertly toyed with my emotions, offering levity in the midst of tragedy, joy where despondence grew thick. He handled cancer in a way I'd never seen before: highlighting the soul-crushing reality of imminent death with a deft prose, and stating, quite honestly, that not everyone passes from the world with their dignity. These characters laid themselves bare to me, and I openly wept at the extremity of their destruction.
There are two twists in this story: the first one concerning Augustus (which I saw coming), and the final one, wherein a certain someone shows up at a funeral (which I did not see coming). The book is flawlessly constructed. As I mentioned before, Green drifts from comedy to heartbreaking drama and back again in a fluid state of grace. I've read many tragedies before, but none had the impact of THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. Either an author can manage tears, or laughter. Rarely both. Nor can they offer either consistently. I know it's a cliche thing to say, but if I wasn't laughing, I was crying. Either way, Green engaged and enthralled me.
This is my first taste of young adult literary fiction. I've read plenty of coming-of-age stories, but never have I read something this achingly real. Let me add this one caveat: The teenagers in this book are all rather precocious, and do not speak as one expects adolescents these days to speak. Do kids this age talk in such a way? I believe they exist, but are few and far between. To have so many well-spoken kids in one novel was, at times, hard to swallow, but the book is so hard to put down that this one minor complaint did not detract from my overall enjoyment. To clarify, I do not believe this generation of teens is stupid, but Hazel, Gus, Isaac, and even Kaitlyn (what little she's in the book) talk with the experience and intelligence of college professors. Green seemed to realize this, and decided to through in near-constant "likes" and "whatevers" to make them sound more youthful.
At first, Green's novel reminded me quite a bit of the Mandy Moore/Shane West movie A WALK TO REMEMBER. Had Hazel and Gus gotten married, I think it would have been borderline plagiarism, but then Green threw in the twist with Gus, and I threw all comparisons to that film out of the window.
Peter Van Houten was probably one of my favorite characters, as was Hazel's trip to Amsterdam, in my opinion, one of the best parts of the book. I was there, in that aged city, walking those streets, dining with Gus and Hazel, sipping bubbly, screaming at my Kindle during their encounter with the reclusive author, clapping while they kissed inside the Anne Frank Museum... I could rave on and on about those chapters, but I'd be spoiling a great deal. Just telling you when and where they kiss is a pretty big spoiler, so my apologies. I'm still not editing it out of my review, so... there!
Since I am new to YA, I had no idea I'd happen upon sex and cussing, but this book features both, albeit the sex was off-camera and handled respectfully. As for as language, there were more than a handful of variations of "shit" with one f-bomb toward the end, as is allowed in most PG-13 movies. Still, it was unexpected, but more than fitting.
Hazel's parents were responsible for most of the tears I shed while reading. I can't even imagine how I would respond to one of my children being diagnosed with a terminal illness, but I believe it would be akin to Hazel's father's response: Crying. Lots and lots of man-bawling. That brings me to another reason I felt so much for these characters: I'm a father. My kids are my greatest accomplishment, my dearest creation. I saw my daughter in Hazel, and my son in Gus. That, in and of itself, tore me to pieces.
In summation, I will not soon forget THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. Startlingly vibrant, flesh and blood people inhabit these pages. John Green manages to write about cancer victims without making them heroic, which was ballsy, to say the least. He does this by exposing their weaknesses, by allowing us to witness the ugliest parts of incurable disease. I applaud Green for tackling such horrors in a tender fashion. Especially the section where Hazel finds Gus in his car at the gas station. That took guts to write, and is a scene that will resound in my mind for years to come.
My highest possible recommendation.
WARNING: Buy a Sam's Club-size crate of Kleenex before attempting to read THE FAULT IN OUR STARS.
(Also, if there are errors in this review, my apologies. I stayed up all night reading this book, and will edit with a fresh pair of eyes when I'm more... wakeful.)