When, not if

The Fault In Our Stars
by John Green

  “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
                                     ~ Julius Caesar

Last month I heard author John Green on NPR and immediately added this book to my wishlist (link). And what should I see just a few days later, stacked atop one of my students notebooks but this novel?! “It’s the best book I’ve ever read.” isn’t a bad recommendation, coming from a sixteen-year-old. My copy of this tender read arrived the week of Valentine’s day, a gift from my sweetheart.

Sixteen-year-old Hazel and seventeen-year-old Augustus are in love–not very unusual as teenagers go. But how many teens meet in Cancer Kids Support Group? And how many girls won’t let themselves fall in love because they worry about the effect their death will have on their boyfriend? At that fateful meeting, Hazel squirms under Gus’s intense stare–with her portable oxygen tank and face swollen by a cancer trial drugs she doesn’t feel attractive. Gus, on the other hand, tall, muscular, and oh-so-cute appears to be the picture of health, albeit short one leg. His cancer was caught, amputated, and annihilated. Hazel isn’t so lucky–her prognosis is not if but when. 

Both teens have lived with death hovering close–and they see its shadow on the faces of their family and friends; it stands between them and high school and Friday night basketball games and all things normal. A loner and avid reader, Hazel reads and re-reads An Imperial Affliction, a novel which echoes her life philosophy. Because the book’s ending is unresolved, Hazel writes author Peter VanHouten again and again asking for answers. After reading the novel himself, Gus also writes VanHouten and receives an email from the writer’s assistant Lidewij Vliegenthart promising a meeting should they ever visit the Netherlands.

Gus uses his Wish to travel with Hazel (and Hazel’s mom) to meet VanHouten. While their visit with the author is disappointing to say the least, their days in Amsterdam are anything but. The young lovers tour Anne Frank’s home, share a romantic champagne dinner by the canal, and watch  life spinning around them– on roller blades, bikes, canal boats, walkers. Until, that is, the life in them starts to spin out of control.

No spoiler alert here. I had a hunch at what might occur, but even its realization was unsettling–I spent the last hour reading through a wash of tears, sometimes unable to see to read. (In fact, I might re-read the end when I have some distance.) The best read ever? Probably not. But a solid story, well-crafted, with enough soul to lend it some weight. Thank you, Esther!

Next up: By George by Wesley Stace–narrated by a ventriloquist’s dummy. Puppet? Mannequin? Whatever the case, who can go wrong with a beginning like that? 

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