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Mirkat

Mirkat Always Reading

I'm always reading something, usually multiple books at a time.

Currently reading

The Magicians (The Magicians, #1)
Mark Bramhall, Lev Grossman

The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars - John Green, Kate Rudd

I was slightly nervous about "reading" this book (I took the audiobook option, so really it was read to me.)  Although I've seen rave reviews, I've also seen reviews from readers who absolutely hated this book.  Teenagers dying of cancer--I suppose it is inevitable that any author taking on a story focusing on such characters is taking on the risk of hitting a nerve (or multiple nerves) in readers.  I recall reading a review expressing that the topic just hit too close to home.  Thankfully, I am not in that position, and my heart goes out to those who are.  If you have real-life experience with a loved one fighting a terminal illness, it might be advisable to skip this book--or at least browse reviews from both ends of the rating scale to get a sense of how it might strike you.

 

Hazel Grace Lancaster is sixteen years old, and for the past three years, she has been living with a diagnosis of terminal cancer.  An experimental medication has allowed her to live on borrowed time since then, but she is always aware that her loan period on that time could expire at any moment.  In support group, she meets Augustus Waters, who has lost a leg to cancer but has been "NEC" (no evidence of cancer) ever since.  Although they quickly develop a bond, Hazel tries to resist allowing a romance to develop because she sees herself as a grenade.  And she is painfully aware that he has already lost a girlfriend who died of a brain tumor.

 

Hazel and Augustus end up embarking on an adventure that, I felt, proved an old axiom that I will hid behind spoiler tags.  (Note:  spoiler tags below the break have been fixed.)

 

 

Never meet your heroes.  Peter Van Houten is Hazel's favorite author.  His one and only novel seems as though it could have been written about her.  Its protagonist, Anna, dies of cancer, and Van Houten seems to have an uncanny ability to know just how Hazel feels about her own illness.  She has read the novel over and over again, and every time she finishes, she feels a frustration because the novel does not end so much as it just stops.  I believe every reader has been there with novels that have that kind of non-ending ending.  It's so very postmodern and frustrating.  Hazel wishes she could just find out what happens to the other characters, as she deduces that the sudden stop represents Anna's death.  But what about her mother?  Does she marry the tulip salesman?  Is the tulip salesman secretly a con man?  What happens to Anna's hamster Sisyphus?  She has written letters to the author, who lives in Amsterdam, but never received a response.  Augustus manages to establish contact with the reclusive author via email through his assistant, but Van Houten asserts that he could never answer the questions in writing, as that would constitute an unofficial sequel that might be published without his consent.  If only the kids could visit him in person, he'd answer them in conversation.  Little does he expect that Augustus would use his wish (via an organization clearly modeled after the Make a Wish Foundation) to arrange a trip to Amsterdam for Hazel, her mother, and Augustus himself.  (Hazel already spent her wish at age 13--Disney World.)

 

So the "never meet your heroes" part:  Peter Van Houten turns out to be an obnoxious drunk who refuses to answer Hazel's questions about anyone other than the hamster, who is adopted by Anna's best friend.  He asserts that the characters simply cease to be at the end of the last page.  They are fictional characters with no existence beyond that page.  (In my head I had been warning Hazel:  "He won't answer your questions!  He won't even know the answers to them!"  Van Houten is so rude to his young guests that his assistant quits in disgust.

 

The episode was such an illustration of "never meet your heroes" that it had me thinking I should really never meet Thomas Pynchon, even on the highly unlikely chance that I ever had the opportunity.  But I can't help thinking that if I did get the chance, I'd still take it.  Then he'd probably offer me a joint and try to sleep with me.  Ha!

(show spoiler)

 

 So, their adventure does not go quite as they imagined or hoped, but it seals their bond.  Ultimately, more spoilers happen.

 

Augustus has a relapse of his cancer, which spreads rapidly, and he dies.  I was actually spoiled on this point, but it still hit me hard.  Van Houten reappears and is still a jerk, but Hazel gains some insight into why he's such an ass, as she figures out how he understood the cancer-kid's point of view so thoroughly.  He does ultimately achieve partial redemption, though he stays a miserable drunk.

(show spoiler)

 

Despite the subject matter, John Green effectively weaves humor throughout Hazel's irreverent narrative.  As others have noted, the teenage characters in this novel do have Dawson's Creek syndrome, in that they sound as though they have had a dictionary and encyclopedia uploaded directly into their brains.  In some cases, that was a bit eyeroll-worthy, but it beats the alternative of having your teenage characters sound like airheads (Clique series, I'm looking at you).  I do recommend this book, especially to those who have already enjoyed other works by John Green.  I will definitely seek out more by the same author. (I have already enjoyed Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines.)