Today, readers will run to bookshops, post boxes and — for those already in possession of so-called
Schrödinger copies – bedroom bookshelves in order to get stuck into The Fault in Our Stars, the newest novel by New York Times Bestselling and Printz Award winning author John Green. I can’t imagine for a moment that these readers will be disappointed because The Fault in Our Stars is by far Green’s best book and an exquisite novel in its own right.
Employing a perfect balance of humour, honesty and adolescent curiosity, the novel interrogates the value we place on lives of “ordinary” length and the implication that value cannot be found in those lives we deem to be cut short. Miraculously, The Fault in Our Stars doesn’t descend into that gratuitously indulgent melancholia typical of many cancer novels. Instead, it contains exceptionally beautiful passages about trees (seriously. When a friend got the book I said to her, “tell me when you’re done, so we can have in-depth discussions about trees.” She laughed at me at first and a few hundred pages later, ate her hat). Augustus Waters is the most attractive fictional love interest I’ve encountered in years, if by attractive we mean really really really hot. Above all, TFiOS has the best narrator/protagonist of any Green book to date in the funny, smart, candid, occasionally shy, America’s Next Top Model-loving Hazel Grace Lancaster.
You know that sort of cringe bit in
Notting Hill where Julia Roberts stands in front of Hugh Grant and says “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her” in an effort to get the film-watcher, as well as Hugh, to realise that she’s a person like any other? Hazel’s like that, without the cringe factor. In her case, however, you don’t need to be convinced that Hazel is a girl, she doesn’t need to tell you, she doesn’t stare at you in the face in that infuriating way first person narrators sometimes do and say “by the way, even though I have cancer, I’m still a girl, and a teenager”. Instead, she shows you by not telling you.
It’s not that you are encouraged to constantly forget that she has cancer, as Hazel has to deal with a body that is attacking her on a daily basis, an oxygen tank that she carefully takes up the steps out of the church where her miserable Support Group is held and regularly noticeable absences from that very Support Group. Hazel is very aware that her parents are terribly afraid for her and brief glimpses into preceding years indicate a lot of tests, a lot of time spent in the hospital, a lot of medicine. Indeed, throughout the novel Hazel struggles to come up with a boundary between herself and her disease — my favourite passage in the book involves a scanner (that’s all I’m saying) and both questions and calls attention to this boundary. It’s that instead of trying to persuade you that she’s a teenager by making you forget the cancer,
TFiOS manages to discuss the diseased body and the prospect of a briefer life without reducing Hazel, Augustus and their friend Isaac to an identity based on cancer alone.
The best books, in my opinion, take your strange starting place, your norm and the perspective from which you
other everything else — including other people, their experiences and their illnesses — and make it so that by the time you lift your head out of the book, you wonder how you could ever have thought their experiences so foreign and alien and unintelligible or even more the case with this book, how you could have thought for a fraction of a second that their lives were that little bit less valuable. The best books also have these moments — beautiful, shining sentences that you just want to underline in every single colour and cut out and put on the wall and glue onto postcards. TFiOS certainly had many of those and I look forward to hearing what your favourite quotations were in the coming weeks.
The Fault in Our Stars is exquisite and extraordinary and whilst I really hope the nerdfighters with itching fingers who have been counting down the days with anticipation and photoshop like it as much as I did, I also hope that this book enjoys a great readership outside of nerdfighteria, because goodness, it deserves it.
Update: We will be hosting a live chat discussion here on Leaky next WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 18, at 6pm Eastern (11pm British): get our your books, your highlighters, and your nerdiest hat and meet us on the front page of LeakyNews.com.
Also, Melissa and Rosi got together to discuss
The Fault in Our Stars in very very spoilery detail. You can listen to that discussion below! The Fault in Our Stars Discussion on LeakyNews.com