Let me start by saying that I am a 40 year old wife and mother who does not generally read young adult fiction (ok, I did read Hunger Games…). I have nothing against the genre and read a ton of it back in my own YA reading days decades ago, but I don’t hunt that section out in the bookstore. I did, however, download The Fault in our Stars to my Kindle and read it all at once during a rainy Sunday last week.
The main characters are high-school aged kids with cancer. Hazel, the protagonist, has terminal thyroid cancer that has also ravaged her lungs. Augustus, her love interest, has lost a leg to cancer as well. I had a hard time, at first, warming up to these kids who come off at first as rather pretentious and stiff, trying to hard to be cool and all METAPHORICAL. The book has all the trappings of YA fiction, as I remember it from the 80’s — friends, fumbling love, awkward first-time sex, and talks about the meaning of life.
The book went off the rails a bit when the kids go in search of their beloved author, Peter Van Houten, who also wrote a book full of pretentious characters with cancer with an incomplete ending. This secondary character is completely ludicrous and I found many of the other characters poorly fleshed out.
Another admission — I did get choked up a few times. Though it took time to warm up to them, the characters did grow on me. Their medical ups and downs were real and familiar to me as a nurse. I felt for them like I feel for my patients. I hurt for them and their families. In fact, I probably identified most with the parents in the book. I found myself thinking about my own son, and how I would deal (or not) if he also had cancer himself at such a young age.
I know this book and author have a lot of fans. I can’t say I’m quite one of them or that I’m going to keep on reading more YA. But in the end Green captured what it must be like to have cancer and live with grace and strength, not because you have some source of inner power, but because you have no choice.