Thursday, February 9, 2012

They Don't Get Better Than This: The Fault in Our Stars

I met John Green a couple of weeks ago when he was participating on a panel for Winter Institute and was one of the big draws at the author receptions.  Up until then, I had only read Will Grayson, Will Grayson, a book that he cowrote with David Levithan, and while I knew he was a beloved author, I really had no clear idea why until that time in New Orleans.  On his panel he kept talking about his horrifically tragic books, but he himself was so damn funny (and WG, WG tipped decidedly toward the funny end of the scale, not the tragic one) that it was difficult for me to feature.

I left work on Thursday with a signed copy of The Fault in Our Stars tucked under my arm, winging a comment back to my colleague Marika as I left that I was looking forward to the emotional ride. Little did I know! I was barely into Chapter One before the bed was shaking with laughter and my husband sniffed at me from over the top of his own, decidedly-less-funny book,  The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy. My cats didn't seem to mind, though my sweet Murray did start licking my face when the laughter abruptly shifted to tears. I'm telling you, this book chewed up my heart and spit it back out again, but I had an absolutely Grand Time for the duration.

You know the movie Steel Magnolias?  I love that movie, not least for its eminent quotability, and one of the first lines I committed to memory was one of Dolly Parton's: "Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion." Well, this book is the pure-dee embodiment of that sentiment.  There were times my shoulders were a-shakin' and I'd be very hard-pressed to determine if it were more from the tears or more from the laughter, for I could suppress neither for very long.

Probably most of you who are reading this review know exactly what this book is about, but for my mom and my husband, and those of you who don't, perhaps, have your fingers on the pulse of YA publishing, here's a short summary: two teenagers meet and fall in love.  So far, so good.  But it's where they meet that shapes this book's content--at a support group for teens with cancer. The reader absolutely knows from the beginning that the book cannot end well, but that doesn't keep the reader from hanging herself with the hope rope. (Or maybe that's just me.) Augustus and Hazel wouldn't be your typical teens even without their missing or weakened body parts.  They're smart, curious, snarky, and introspective. Their cancer has taken them beyond politeness to that realm where fools are not suffered gladly and where the concept of pussyfooting around topics other (read: normal) people find uncomfortable is unfathomable.

The dialogue is exactly what dialogue should be in real life, if only we got to rehearse and make it perfect yet authentic. The pathos in the book is a fitting tribute to the title's source: nothing less venerably tragic than Shakespeare's Julius Caesar ("The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,/ But in ourselves").

There's book talk, video games, a friend who goes blind, some mild vandalism, a trip to Amsterdam, Two Very Important Venn diagrams, and an asshole of an author, and throughout it all the book boils down to narrative perfection. My two main critiques of the book have nothing to do with the content and everything to do with design: 1) the cover design is not very good, and in fact it's hard to read the text underneath the white cloud, and (2) The lovely-to-look-at typeface which is also, in fact, easy to read, is never identified.

Really, I cannot recommend this book enough.  Just read it, y'all!


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