Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Seawall Beach: March is still winter in Maine

I do a lot of reading during the long winter in Maine, and this month's selection for the book review club is one of my favorites. I'm not alone in my adoration. Having crossed over to an adult audience since its release in January 2012, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green is #1 on the NYT bestseller list for children. Novels about dying are too often saccharine tearjerkers loaded with clichés, but this beautifully written romance about teens with cancer made me laugh more than it made me cry.
 “You have a choice in this world, I believe, about how you tell sad stories, and we made the funny choice.” Says Hazel, the 16-year-old narrator.
Since thyroid cancer spread to her lungs, Hazel navigates life with an air tank on wheels. In her support group she meets Augustus, a former varsity basketball player. Bone cancer stole half a leg but not his sense of humor or his hotness. Augustus is in remission with a favorable prognosis, but a miracle drug has only slowed the growth rate of Hazel’s tumors. A wish granting foundation will grant them a dream get away, but is there time? 
“I didn’t tell him that the diagnosis came three months after I got my first period. Like: Congratulations! You’re a woman. Now die.” Hazel isn’t sure romance is a good idea: “I’m a grenade and at some point I’m going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties, okay?”
The Fault in Our Stars is as much about living as it is about dying. It was a surprisingly easy book to read. Although the story centers on a romance, cancer is not romanticized. The 34-year-old author worked as a chaplain at a children’s hospital before switching to a literary career. His novels, however, are more irreverent and philosophical than religious. The kids sound and act like real teens, only wittier and wiser. My only criticism is that the characters in Green's books all speak in a similar voice, but it’s a unique voice well worth listening too.

If John Green hadn’t already won the 2006 Printz Award for Looking for Alaska, I’d expect The Fault in Our Stars to be this year’s winner. My 17-year-old son, who doesn't usually read young adult fiction, loves John Green and asked for this one.  AARP recommended this YA to the over 50 crowd. I’d strongly recommend this beautifully crafted novel to readers of all ages. 

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@Barrie Summy

Laugh Watch: "Explaining Londoners" in the NYT Magazine.  The newspaper subscriber profiles are hilarious.

Charity Watch: Authors for Henryville are looking for donations of books and funds to restock the Henryville schools after the March 2nd tornadoes in Southern Indiana. 


Anonymous said...

It's a tough task to write about such a delicate subject. Even harder to do it with humour. Thanks for the great review.

Greetings from London.

Barrie said...

Hi Sarah: I enjoyed this book as well. Actually, it reminded me a little of the movie Juno. I think because the teens didn't always sound like teens, but older. Which I'm okay with, but I'm always aware of. Thanks for reviewing!

Ellen Booraem said...

Oh, thank you for doing this Sarah...I've heard so much about this book, and now I realize that I HAVE to read it. Nothing like a fresh approach to an age-old topic!

Alyssa Goodnight said...

I'm definitely going to look for this one. It will probably be somewhat of a tear jerker for me (the subject matter will do it), but judging by your review, it will be worth it! :)

Sounds like it would make a great movie!

Cid said...

This author's name has popped up a few time recently so I will definitely have to take a look for myself and my 14 year old. Love the photo, it's sunny and mild here today so we'll send the warm weather east tomorrow.

Linda McLaughlin said...

This sounds really good, though I imagine I will be laughing through the tears!

tina said...

Laughing and not crying is a good thing with any book. I watched 'The Help' the other day and had no idea there would be tears there! Along with the laughter of course.

A Cuban In London said...

Oh, dear! The system's done it again. I'm down as "anonymous". Blogger is starting to cross me. Anyway, that first comment was mine. :-)

I've yet to see The Artists but for some reason I think I'll like.

Greetings from London.

Sarahlynn said...

Lovely review. I was thinking, "sounds interesting, but not for me" until I got to this bit: "Although the story centers on a romance, cancer is not romanticized. The 34-year-old author worked as a chaplain at a children’s hospital before switching to a literary career." Zing! You had me.

Jenn Jilks said...

I don't read young adult fiction, being retired! I love your review, though.
And your beautiful photos.
We have rain on snow today.
Such is the season.
Thank you for visiting!
Cheers from Cottage Country!

troutbirder said...

Intriguing. Our town librarian, a former student of mine, often asks for history book recommendations. I think I'll branch out and make reference to you blog and this post...

Beth Kephart said...

I loved this one, too—in large part because of the quality of Green's own heart.

Rose said...

I've seen a recommendation for this book somewhere else, so I was curious about it. Sounds like something that would appeal to a wide audience. Thanks for reviewing it, Sarah.

Sarah Laurence said...

Barrie, good point. I know worldly, eloquent teens, but they are more the exception than the rule. I still appreciated a book that gave those teens a voice. In general, I think people underestimate teens and their capacity to understand complex issues. It’s important to have a full range of books out there for reluctant readers to advanced ones. This book had big words and ideas, but it still was easy to read. Thanks for hosting our book review club!

Ellen and Other Readers, I’d love to hear your reaction. Come back in leave another comment if you remember.

Alyssa, yes, it would make a good movie. There is something quite cinematic about Green’s writing style: the funny dialogue and the amusing physical descriptions. The characters always go on adventures and prank too.

Cid, thanks for sharing your weather. The ice is finally melting!

Linda and Tina, laughter helps with sad stories.

ACIL, don’t worry: I fished your first comment out of my spam filter as I knew it was you.

Sarahlynn, his personal background in counseling children and families really informs the narrative. I imagine Green was a very good chaplain, but as a bestseller author, his words will be reaching more people. He writes of spiritual matters without sounding preachy at all.

Jenn, did you check out that link to AARP? The article recommended several YA books to retired readers, including this one. Some YA is only aimed at teens, but this book had teens facing end of life issues with a maturity beyond their years.

Troutbirder, thank you!
Troutbirder’s Librarian, welcome to my blog!

Beth, at first the subject of dying children made me reluctant to read this book, but your review and the one in the NYT encouraged me to overcome that. Plus I loved Green’s Looking for Alaska. You are right about his big heart.

Rose, this book has gotten a lot of positive reviews online and in NYT, AARP, Time etc. Usually books like that disappoint me, but this one lived up to the buzz.

Carol said...

Sarah, This is a great review and it is heartbreaking to know of so many young women having to deal with thyroid cancer. The quote " . . . Congratulations! You're a woman. Now die." Poignantly telling. I have heard a few stories from friends and colleagues. No one seems to know why.
Winter is giving us a break here and the birds are all aflutter . . .

David Cranmer said...

Those excerpts are powerful, Sarah.

Thanks for the review and marvelous (as always) pic.

Ashley Hope Pérez said...

Thanks for the review, Sarah. Have you read BEFORE I DIE by Jenny Downham? If you have, I'm curious how A FAULT IN OUR STARS compares. If not, you should. I thought it was beautiful.

Sarah Laurence said...

Carol, yes, many women have thyroid issues if not cancer. I think what makes this fictional story resonate is how it is based in truth.

David, thanks!

Ashley, I haven't read Before I Die but I have heard good things about it. Thanks for the recommendation!

Bee said...

I recently read Looking for Alaska and really enjoyed it . . . while not finding it suitable for my 12 year old students. Thanks so much for this review. I hadn't heard of this one.