The Fault in Our Stars got bumped to the top of my to-read list because one of my students, a 5th grade boy who is a self-professed nerd and huge fan of Green’s work on Vlogbrothers (which I confess I haven’t yet spent much time looking at), declared so sweetly and intensely and repeatedly his love for it. After saying to this young man three times, “I’m sorry, I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet,” I really couldn’t live with myself any longer. So I picked it up at last this morning, and spent the day soaking it in.
First, let me say that it is a rare 5th grade boy who will appreciate this book (I am dying to hear more about what he loved about it), but oh my, I can think of many, many older middle schoolers and upper schoolers who will devour it and come back asking for more stuff just like it. There is some sex (not explicit, but the main characters are 16 and 17 years old, and it is part of their world) and some language and some heavy-duty subject matter (love and death, in particular), but in my opinion, all of those things in this particular book add to the beauty and reality of the novel. This is not an easy, light read, but at the same time, it drew me in quickly and I flew through it one day. I laughed out loud at several points, and teared up at several others. I think if I had read it at age 14, I would have loved it even more. It’s cliche to say it, but the novel is heartbreakingly funny and sad. Hazel (the narrator) would cringe at that description, but it’s the truth.
The basic plot: the narrator, Hazel, has had terminal cancer since she was 13 and is (understandably) quite depressed about her situation. She meets Augustus, who is in remission from the bone cancer that took his leg, at a support group meeting, and the friendship/romance that develops between them is the focus on the novel. Both Hazel and Augustus are wicked smart, funny, quirky, and thoughtful, and as a reader I kind of fell in love with both of them as they fell in love with each other.
I don’t know what it’s like to have cancer as a young person, or even to know someone in that situation. I do have a close friend with a terminal illness, and I thought of her a lot as I read this book. She doesn’t like to read books about people dying, so I’ll never know if I’m right, but I had the thought many times that things Hazel said would probably ring true for my friend, and I felt like maybe I came away with a slightly better understanding of what it might be like to be in my friend’s shoes. And isn’t that what great books do–shine a little light on the mysteries of life that we ourselves haven’t experienced, or make us feel a bit less lonely in the ones we have.