Sunday, April 1, 2012

Jen's Picks: The Fault in Our Stars

Greetings! I'm Jennifer Hawes, and I work with young adult books at the Charleston County Public Library. Welcome to my random thoughts about books for teens. If a book grabs you, click on the title to reserve a copy, or search CCPL's ebooks. Happy reading!

The Fault in Our Stars

By John Green

This week, I fell in love.

I fell in love with a guy named Augustus Waters. I also became quite fond of his girlfriend, Hazel Lancaster. But mostly I fell into awe of John Green, author of my new favorite teen book of all time, The Fault in Our Stars. Anyone who uses words like “cancertastic” and who actually made me want to read a book about teens facing death by cancer surely warrants so much admiration.

Honestly, I’m not big on reading depressing books just for fun. But I am a sucker for smart sarcasm, and the book (TFiOS as fans call it) opens with Hazel at a cancer support group held in a church basement that she’s dubbed the Literal Heart of Jesus. Every week, the group leader reminds them that he's alive despite losing both testicles to cancer, which leaves Hazel musing, "AND YOU TOO MIGHT BE SO LUCKY!"

The support group is a complete downer. Hazel only goes to help her buddy, Isaac, whose appearance might freak out those who don’t understand that living with major physical imperfections is an acceptable alternative to not living at all.

His eyes were the problem. He had some fantastically improbable eye cancer. One eye had been cut out when he was a kid, and now he wore the kind of thick glasses that made his eyes (both the real one and the glass one) preternaturally huge, like his whole head was basically just this fake eye and this real eye staring at you.

John Green
That Hazel attends the support group for Isaac's sake made me love her right away. That she sees her life, ill-fated by thyroid cancer spread to her lungs, through lenses of vast intelligence and wit made me love her even more. John Green gives Hazel a voice that any teen or adult who values humor and insight will construe as genius, such as when Hazel enumerates the side effects of dying.

The Support Group featured a rotating cast of characters in various states of tumor-driven unwellness. Why did the cast rotate? A side effect of dying.

The Support Group, of course, was depressing as hell.

So why isn’t the book?

Yes, I shed tears. You might be a rock if you don’t. Yet, somehow John Green keeps The Fault in Our Stars from dwelling in that dark, suffocating place that’s home to many books about sickness and death.

Maybe it’s because I wanted to spend time with his characters too much to close the book on their stories, too much to leave as they face the cruel challenges that cancer poses in their young lives. Hazel and Augustus feel so real, their conversations so hilarious, their personalities so full of quirks and faults that surely they are people I’ve met along the path of my real life. Or at least I wish I had.

Hazel meets Augustus, a friend of Isaac’s, at the support group. From there, we get to share those wonderfully awkward firsts that come with their first love, made no less wonderful and awkward by Augustus’s lack of one leg and Hazel’s inability to breathe for long without nasal cannulas delivering oxygen to her struggling lungs.

Chloe with John Green's van
Or, maybe I kept reading because Hazel and Augustus question the world and our assumptions in so many cool ways that they made me think hard about what it means to truly live. And to die.

PS: Check out John Green’s other great books, Looking For Alaska, Paper Towns, An Abundance of Katherines, and Will Grayson, Will Grayson, which he co-wrote with David Levithan. Then, dig into his vlogbrothers online persona and join his Nerdfighters.

If you have read TFiOS or any of John Green's books, leave us a comment!


  1. Totally agree with your review. I had no idea what this book was about and I'm glad I didn't because I'm not sure I'd willingly read a book about teens with cancer, but this was awesome!

  2. Unlike Jen, I AM into reading depressing books just for fun...and this one did not disappoint me either! I loved this book. I loved how the witty banter reminded me of the way my family and friends speak (or maybe how I wish they would all speak?). I loved how even the pages that make you cry are infused with humor. I want to be friends with pretty much everyone in the book--from the loving, supportive (but still believably imperfect) parents to the spunky, boy-crazy best non-cancery friend, and of course to the two main characters, Augustus and Hazel.

    As teaser for the book, here are three of my absolute favorite passages:

    (1) On the hilarity of Kaitlyn, the best friend, who adds levity and treats Hazel like a normal teenager:

    “’I have a boy problem,’ I [Hazel] said.
    ‘DELICIOUS,’ Kaitlyn responded." (Hazel explains her problem.) "...‘Huh,’ Kaitlyn said. ‘Out of curiosity, how many legs does this guy have?’
    ‘Like 1.4,’ I said, smiling. Basketball players were famous in Indiana, and although Kaitlyn didn’t go to North Central, her social connectivity was endless.
    ‘Augustus Waters,’ she said. (94)

    (After which, Kaitlyn continues to talk in no uncertain terms about how hot he is.)

    (2) On Hazel wrestling with how her illness is affecting her loved ones:

    ‘I’m not going on dates,’ I said. ‘I don’t want to go on dates with anyone. It’s a terrible idea and a huge waste of time and—‘
    ‘Honey,’ my mom said. ‘What’s wrong?’
    ‘I’m like. Like. I’m like a grenade, Mom. I’m a grenade and at some point I’m going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties, okay?’
    My dad tilted his head to the side, like a scolded puppy.
    ‘I’m a grenade,’ I said again. ‘I just want to stay away from people and read books and think and be with you guys because there’s nothing I can do about hurting you; you’re too invested, so just please let me do that, okay? I’m not depressed. I don’t need to get out more. And I can’t be a regular teenager, because I’m a grenade.’ (99)

    (3) On the amazingness that is Augustus Waters, who chooses his behaviors based on their “metaphorical resonsances” (ahh, it’s a nerd’s dream come true):

    “‘They [cigarettes] don’t kill you unless you light them,’ he said as Mom arrived at the curb. ‘And I’ve never lit one. It’s a metaphor, see: You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don’t give it the power to do its killing.’
    ‘It’s a metaphor,’ I said, dubious. Mom was just idling.
    ‘It’s a metaphor,’ he said.
    ‘You choose your behaviors based on their metaphorical resonances…’ I said.
    ‘Oh, yes.’ He smiled. The big, goofy, real smile. ‘I’m a big believer in metaphor, Hazel Grace.’” (20-21)

    My heart, she melts.

    I hope you enjoy the book as much as I did, and thanks, Jen, for writing this post!