It seems wrong, on the face of it, for a book about teens with cancer to be laugh-out-loud funny. It seems appropriate for a book about teens with cancer to be wrenchingly sad. And when a book that has both these qualities is written with both tremendous intelligence and respect for the intelligence of its readers, it seems quite likely that the author would be John Green.
Green’s adolescent characters tend to have the best qualities of real teens--intelligence, observational skills, critical thinking, a functioning moral compass, and keen, if dark, sense of humor--but they’re never too good to be true. This is particularly fortunate in his latest YA novel, The Fault in Our Stars, as his principal characters are teens with cancer; in different hands, they could be all too easily sanctified and/or reduced to their condition. However, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters are rendered vividly alive in the time they have with each other--”living (their) best life today,” whether they want to or not.
In different hands, this story could simply be a tragedy. Here, it’s hilarious, heart-rending, romantic, sometimes furious, occasionally farfetched (but not where it really matters), painfully honest and honestly painful. The writing is both straightforward and evocative, and the dialogue is particularly remarkable: it’s literate and casual, sometimes within the same sentence--and as someone who’s lived with teens, it rang thoroughly real to my ears.
As an adult reader, one of the things that tends to get under my skin when reading YA is the marginalization of adult characters that sometimes happens. Then again, such marginalization is probably an accurate representation of adolescent self-absorption--and to be fair, the adolescents in The Fault in Our Stars have more justification for their self-absorption, and the associated belief that their parents have no other focus but them, than most teens do. I appreciated that this actually was addressed within the novel, between Hazel and her parents, in a way that was insightful and true to character and story.
The only one of Green’s books I’ve read prior to this one is Looking for Alaska; I have a couple of his others in TBR Purgatory, but I really can’t evaluate The Fault in Our Stars relative to his other work at this point. However, I can say that at this point in 2012, it’s the best book I’ve read this year, and I’d absolutely recommend it to both teens and older readers.