The Fault in Our Stars is a bestseller by John Green that has been off the charts in the YA world recently. Let me preface this review by saying I have actively avoided reading this book for two reasons. One is the hype; this level of fandom that surrounds a book, and an author, scares me. You cannot say anything super positive OR negative without having to suffer a lengthy discussion afterwards, particularly in the bookstore I work at.
The second reason is this – personal experience with the topic of the book. I have a loved one in my family who has been battling brain cancer since 2008. And when I say battle what I mean is this – there is no cure for brain cancer. There are only treatments that prolong the life (and the suffering) of the victim, in this case my loved one. So, when I say there is a reason that I was resistant to this book I mean exactly this: I have a very good reason to be resistant. Simple as that.
So, when I decided to pick up this book it was for this reason – “It’s not really a book about cancer”. That is what everyone told me to encourage me to read it. And since said loved one is fast approaching remission with another bout of dealing with the life threatening scary illness I thought it was time to read this. Because, as people have been telling me, it’s not REALLY about cancer.
Except that it is. And it’s about the scary part of cancer. And I feel, on some level, like I was lied to. And that’s that
We meet Hazel, a Stage IV thyroid cancer survivor. She is between bouts of cancer but there is always the possibility that her disease can return and that she will die. Hazel lives with the disease everyday, living with a body that has been irreparably ravaged by her illness. While attending a support group for cancer victims she meets Augustus Waters, an amputee and Osteosarcoma survivor. He was in the 80 percentile of people who survive the disease but it cost him his leg, which was amputated above the knee. Augustus seems inexplicably attracted to Hazel, much to her surprise. He pursues her, exerting his charms to win her over. Hazel is reluctant because of her current state of mind with her disease. The fact is that she could relapse at any time and this knowledge has always prevented her from living her life more to the fullest. Augustus encourages just this in her, to live with the disease, not die from it.
Wading through this book is like watching the movie Up for the first time when you have no idea what it is about beyond the basic premise – Old man ties balloons to his house, house goes up in the air with a boy on the front porch. Same thing – Two teenagers have personal experience with separate cancers, two teenagers bond through their cancers. But in this book there’s another catalyst to bring these two together, An Imperial Affliction, a novel by the highly fictionalized (yet immensely entertaining) Peter Van Houten. It’s Hazel’s favourite book, which she shares with Augustus. This book sets them on a journey that will propel the entire plot of the book (that was the part of the book that I did love).
Without giving the ending away, I was not a fan of this book during the last 100 pages. I felt cheated by the direction that Green takes us. So much of this book is about these two surviving that when we do get to the end of the book the ending, such as it is, feels like ruination. It’s like watching a Lars von Trier film. I was fully prepared for this to end well but it doesn’t, and I naively wasn’t prepared for it. I now remember the reason why I avoided reading this book.
I was fully prepared to love this book and then the ending happened and now I just feel numb. I freely admit that I keyed into way too many personal experiences with this book. However, part of it feels like Green wrote himself into a corner and there was only one real way out of that corner. And now I can’t stop having trauma flashbacks from my own experience. It’s my own fault, really. I could have stopped, but at the point I was in the book there was no way that would have happened. I should have just listened to my gut instincts and not picked it up in the first place.
For those of you who do not have first, or second hand, experience of watching someone suffer (horribly) with cancer, this book may be for you. I can’t argue with the first two/thirds of the book, which made me laugh out loud and smile in tandem. However, the end was brutal, and I couldn’t look away. I feel like this book and Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body should get together and have lunch. I feel like both of those books would get on with one another.
For the record, I read Written long before 2008, when the cancer popped up in my family. Otherwise I would never have picked it up.
For me, no more cancer books. Ever. I just feel wrecked after reading this, which I understand is largely the point. There was no way that I was going to be able to review a book about cancer victims objectively though, I admit that. I was completely biased going into this book how I was going to feel about it. So for that I am awarding it with no rating. I leave it up to you readers to make up your mind how you feel about this. For me, well… no more. I just can’t do them anymore. But I am writing this review to remind myself why that is. NO MORE CANCER BOOKS EVER! That’s an order from your past self to your future self, Krys. You cannot handle them. Period.