When I first saw the film Billy Elliot, I said at the time that it overwhelmed me so much that I wanted to go out in the street and hug random strangers. With The Fault In Our Stars, I wanted to stage my own personal World Book Night. I wanted to buy 100 copies and hand them to random people, urging them to read it. It’s a beautiful and special piece of work that EVERYONE needs to read.
It was always going to be a tricky one for me to read, as our feisty teenage heroine Hazel Grace has an incurable cancer (not a terminal one, though really what IS the difference there?) and it’s one of those fuckers which stole my dad from us, so ya know. I expected it would make me a little weepy. I didn’t expect it to move me quite so epically and so often as it did. Hazel is strong-armed into going to Cancer Support Group by her over-protective parents and one day Augustus Waters comes along to the group. Hazel thinks he’s hot, then finds out he’s charming and then suddenly her life is on a very different path. Though it’s a path where cancer still comes along for the ride.
Hazel loves Augustus and I swear with God as my witness, if there’s a person out there who reads this book and doesn’t love him EVERY BIT AS MUCH (if not more) then that person has no soul. Hazel is in awe of him from minute one and she’s authentically teenage about it too: “Look, let me just say it: He was hot. A nonhot boy stares at you relentlessly and it is, at best, awkward, and, at worst, a form of assault. But a hot boy….. well.” And that’s the kicker. Not only has Green written teenagers who sound like teenagers (intelligent, erudite ones to be sure, but teenagers all the same), they don’t sound like they have a bad case of Dawson’s-Creek-itis to go with their cancers. And the approach they have to their illness, irreverent and determined, feels so much more real than having them mope around feeling sorry for themselves and waiting to die.
A large part of the book is taken up with Hazel’s desire to track down the author of her favourite book, An Imperial Affliction. It too is about a teenage girl fighting cancer and famously ends mid-sentence. Hazel simply HAS TO KNOW what happened next so keeps writing to the author. Except he is a recluse who lives in Amsterdam and never writes her back. And so Augustus (having fallen in love with AIA as well as with Hazel) spends his Wish from the Make A Wish Foundation on a trip to Amsterdam. Normally, a teen romance would have me puking on my shoes, but the whole Amsterdam section made me alternately joyful and weepy.
Peter Van Houten, the author of AIA, is an alcoholic mess and disappoints them both with his actions when them meet him. Refusing to answer Hazel’s questions, Augustus pledges that he will write her a sequel instead. He’s that kind of guy. But life gets in the way, Van Houten gets a shot at redemption and when Hazel finally reads what Augustus wrote, well. It’s possibly the most achingly beautiful thing I’ve read all year.
Reading this book really brings it home as to why I absolutely bloody love books. It is easily in my top ten books that I have read this year. Some books when you recommend them to people, you’ll say “yeah it’s really funny” or “it’s so exciting to read” or some such. With this book, if I may quote those South Park boys in a very different context, all I can say is “this book will change your life”. So read it. I hope you love it. Because I do, John Green. I do.