Guest review by Adina Ciment
“I have a GREAT book for you to read. It’s about two teenagers who fall in love, but, get this, they both have CANCER! It’s amazing!”
Huh? Doesn’t life suck enough? Now I have to read about fictional people whose lives suck?
In a word, yes.
The Fault in Our Stars is a beautiful book that is more about how one lives rather than about dying. Hazel, the young protagonist, is forced into a cancer survivor group at the urging of her mother who is concerned that Hazel is depressed. It is there where she meets Augustus Waters, the handsome, intelligent, metaphor-loving, teen heartthrob. Heartthrob with cancer, that is. And a missing leg.
Their relationship is the heart of the story, and though cancer certainly consumes much of it, there is much more humor than heartache, more character than chemo. These are characters you love not out of sympathy, but because they are so damn likable. And I mean likable in an intellectual sort of way, not an Edward-Cullen-I-Want-Your-Body-Now kind of way. They are attractive because they are smart and mature, dealing with issues that would more than likely break the strongest of adults.
John Green, the bestselling, Printz winning, Young Adult author is on familiar territory with those kinds of characters. In fact, all his protagonists are smart misfits that struggle with those age-old questions like, “How can I get this girl to like me?” or, more important, “WHY won’t this girl like me?” along with larger questions about life and death, why bad things happen to good people, and how to escape this labyrinth of life. The characters are educated, from good families, and deal with the same issues every teen struggles with: boys, parents, school, friends. He is sort of like the John Hughes of the literary world.
It makes for a great young adult novel. It also makes for an excellent adult one. I often wonder what people think when they see an adult reading a Young Adult novel. I’ll sit at the doctor’s office and take out An Abundance of Katherines, and the woman next to me holding The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen will sneer in silent derision. But that’s because she more than likely never really understood what reading was all about. Or some well-meaning AP Literature teacher taught her all too well the lessons in literary snobbery.
Critics of YA novels always find something to say: “It’s too violent!” “There’s sex!” “Kids are drinking alcohol!” “This will encourage Satan worship!”
John Green novels have not escaped the same Bible-thumping cries. There is sex (ahh!), there is death (shock!), and there is alcohol (say it ain’t so!), but not gratuitously so. In fact, in all of his novels the most intimate, intense moments are rarely physical. His books are about relationships – not just teenage vampire romps. They are about understanding the mess we call life. And time and again, they are smart, real, and relatable.
Don’t listen to the elitists and don’t miss out on this book. The Fault in Our Stars is a funny, intelligent, poignant story. It is a love story, but it is more than that. And it will stay with you long after you finish it (or in my case, long after I finished sobbing in my bedroom closet).
Adina Ciment is an English teacher by day, mother of five by night, soon-to-be famous author in between. She writes for Tailslate and has contributed to The Best Damn Creative Writing Blog. It is always a delight to have her as a guest here on Books, Personally - her past posts include this gorgeous review of Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, an outstanding ode to the marvelous Molly Weasley, and a brilliant holiday gift recommendation. You can find Adina on her blog Writing Elves and on twitter.