Monday, May 19, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

Staff Review by Chris Saliba

John Green's The Fault in Our Stars miraculously mixes humour, fatal disease and teenage love to create an almost perfect novel.

The subject matter of this young-adult novel is really quite daunting: teenagers living with cancer. It seems like a subject you could get very, very wrong unless you really knew what you were doing. Green drew inspiration for the subject when he was working as a student chaplain in a children’s hospital. The novel’s main character is based on Esther Earl, a teenage friend of the author who contracted thyroid cancer.

The novel is in essence a simple love story, but complicated by the deep uncertainty of the protagonists’ lives. Hazel Grace Lancaster has thyroid cancer which has spread to her lungs. When her mother nudges her into going to a support group for teens with cancer, she meets the amusing and charismatic Augustus Waters. He’s had osteosarcoma, which has resulted in a leg amputation. They both have a mutual friend in Isaac. He’s had eye cancer and has had to have both removed. His girlfriend has also dropped him because she couldn’t cope with his condition.

A secondary plot involves the author Peter Van Houten. His novel, An Imperial Affliction, is Hazel’s favourite. She re-reads it obsessively. The main character in this novel-within-a-novel is Anna, a girl who has cancer. Hazel loves the book, as she thinks it’s an accurate description of what it’s like to have cancer, but is frustrated at the novel’s abrupt end. Augustus manages to communicate with Van Houten, and Van Houten becomes involved in the drama of their relationship.

It’s almost impossible to find any faults in this compelling novel. John Green doesn’t go beyond the bounds of his literary brief in simply trying to show the humanity of teenagers living with cancer. It’s this commitment to realism that makes The Fault in Our Stars such a success. In so many respects the characters in the novel are just normal people like you and me, but having to deal with life and death issues at too young an age. There’s a real tenderness and sensitivity in his writing that is quite palpable. It’s a cliché to say it, but it’s true: Green’s novel makes you realise how fragile life is and how important it is to prioritize the right things.

John Green also gives his story plenty of comic touches which makes The Fault in our Stars genuinely funny in places. It’s quite a miraculous feat that he can juggle humour, fatal disease and teenage love into such a seamless mix. The secondary plot about the novelist Peter Van Houten is smartly woven into the story as well, highlighting the importance of literature as therapy and as a way of making sense of the world.

A brilliant and humbling book.

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. Published by Puffin. ISBN: 9780143571629 RRP: $19.99

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