I know I’m late to this party – but I seriously loved this book, and not because it’s about cancer. I have drunk the Kool-Aid and I do think this is “omgthebestbookever.” It’s not necessarily realistic because teenagers don’t speak or act that way, nor do adults even. It’s more like the way you wish someone would speak with endless witticism and clever comebacks that roll of the tongue of those who can’t possibly be that articulate and well read. I honestly didn’t care though because I loved the dialogue and prose. I didn’t mind that the teenagers act and talk in ways that are in no way realistic. To me the story isn’t even attempting to be realistic. It’s pure fantasy in contemporary setting and I could go with that.
The narration follows Hazel Grace, a 16 y/o terminal cancer teen who meets cancer survivor Augustus Waters at a support group meeting. The entirety of the story is about how these two teenagers, who are imminently aware of their own mortality, live the life they have. It’s honestly as simple as that. It involves their struggle to love and be loved without hurting those around them and worrying about the worth of their life once they die.
I listened to the audiobook version (twice, back to back) that I checked out from the library and then after those two times I bought the audio version so I could always have it on my phone. The only other book I did that to was Ender’s Game, despite author problems I adore. So this definitely has a place on my most loved books list as apparently it does on everyone else’s as well. Which is great because I think it’s incredibly well written, funny, moving, terribly sad, but most of all a great examination of how those that are aware of their impending death view life. What makes it tragic is that of course the protagonists are teenagers. It’s the age where they are aware enough to have existential crises but also make their passing tragic because they’re still young with so much lost potential.
Like I said I’m not sure this book will be for everyone because it doesn’t attempt to be realistic. It’s a hot button for some readers and not for others so consider that before you decide to read. The cancer drugs used don’t exist and Hazel’s condition is not realistic, in that she’d be dead before she got to the point of narrating the story, but I could accept that and honestly it didn’t bother me. That’s just a few examples among many that typify this particular book. I feel as though the story never attempts to make the dialogue, characters, and situations realistic though. Instead they are meant to illustrate concepts and tell a story in exaggeration. Along those lines the dialogue and prose is stunning. No teenager would ever speak in that kind of eloquence and articulation, but I loved it anyway. I especially loved the narrator’s inflection with Augustus’ voice when she read his dialogue and I would often rewind just to hear it again.
The ending is tragic and sad, but for some reason I didn’t see that coming. I should have and it’s easy to see if you look for it but I clearly didn’t and ended up sobbing in my car for almost 2 cd’s worth. I found it that affecting. While it’s definitely sad and tragic there is a lining of bittersweet tenderness that runs through the whole story. The main characters are all teenagers with cancer and varying degrees of hope for an uncertain future but the secondary characters – some friends but mostly family of these terminal teenagers – try to show an additional facet to the idea of living a short life that one knows will end far sooner than they wish. That knowledge really colors and changes actions and decisions.
This is the first John Greene book I’ve read but I’m eager to read his backlist. This must be an example of his intelligent and articulate writing so I’m curious to see how other books compare. Again, keep in mind it’s not realistic so if that doesn’t bother some readers I simply cannot recommend this book enough.