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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Fault in our Stars by John Green is a most excellent book.

     Reading The Fault in our Stars by John Green (2012 New York: Dutton) is kind of like riding a roller coaster -- but one of the old wooden coasters that goes up and down really fasts with quick turns that you don't seen coming -- not one of those new gleaming monsters that seem to spend all their time corkscrewing you all over tarnation.  The Fault in our Stars takes a lot of quick turns.  The plot line isn't predictable, yet it isn't really jarring either -- and the language is really breathtaking.  These people you are riding this coaster with, Hazel and Augustus, are really smart and really funny and it is fun to spend time with them.
     I remember after I saw and loved the movie Juno, someone I was talking with pointed out that real teenagers can't possibly be that clever all the time.  I remember replying to that person that it was obvious they didn't teach high school for a living.  It is true that there are many high school students who could not be as clever as Hazel and Augustus, but there are also some high school students that are at least that smart. I have known a fair number of them.  The person I was talking to may have objected that such people would have to be pretty remarkable high school students.
     Well of course.  Do you really want to read about people who are unremarkable?

          Oh, yeah, the plot.  Look, I am willing to tell you about the plot, but I don't think it is going to give you a clear idea of what the book is like.  For what it is worth, though, here you go.  Hazel has cancer.  It has already eaten up so much of her lungs that she needs supplemental oxygen.  At a support group mee3ting, she meets Augustus.  Augustus also has cancer.  Hit has taken one of his legs already.  They a drawn together by a mutual love of reading and eventually by a mutual love of a book called An Imperial Affliction.  The book ends inclusively, though, and Hazel has always dreamed of tracking down the books highly reclusive author, Peter Van Houten to find out what happens to the characters in the end.  Augustus actually makes contact with Van Houten and arranges through the Make-a-wish foundation for the two of them to fly to Holland, where Van Houten lives, to ask him personally.  They go.  Things get complicated. 
     Didn't help did it?  Okay, how about this, here are the opening lines of the book:
          "Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death.
      "Whenever you read a cancer booklet or website or whatever, they always list depression among the side effects of cancer.  But, in fact, depression is not a side effect of cancer.  Depression is a side effect of dying.  (Cancer is also a side effect of Dying.  Almost anything is really.)"
     I find that funny.  (Full disclosure:  I am fighting cancer myself.  Maybe it isn't as funny if you are not fighting cancer.  I don't know.)  I find the whole book funny, and touching, and sometimes deeply moving.  Maybe the plot doesn't convince you.  Maybe the opening line doesn't convince you.  Okay.  I still think you need to read it.


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