My rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Publisher: Penguin (2012)
Length: 313 pgs
Format: Paperback, purchased from Target
Goodreads Synopsis: Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.
My Review: Ok, full disclosure: I didn’t cry. Not a drop. This book didn’t have me swimming in feels. But this does not mean that I didn’t enjoy it. Rather, it was just another victim of the hype-monster for me.
I’ll admit, this was my first (full) experience with John Green. I read about half of An Abundance of Katherines before I was forced to return it to the library. I was kind of anticipating him to be the Nicholas Sparks of YA, because literally almost everyone I talked to told me to keep a box of tissues nearby while I read (which I did, not in preparation for an emotional breakdown, but rather because I am a slave to summertime allergies). I was very pleasantly surprised to learn that Green had a rather snarky narrative voice that I instantly liked, and I really, really enjoyed reading from Hazel’s perspective. She’s very perceptive and very aware of her situation with cancer and of her impact on others, and it’s interesting to see how she reconciles her impending death with the way she lives her life.
Unfortunately, I did not find Augustus a character that I liked nearly as much as Hazel. I just didn’t connect with him, and seeing as the narrative was heavily focused on the love story between these two characters, it was hard for me to fall in love with the book when I only liked half of the couple. The pacing of the book also felt off to me, and it made the romance seem rushed, and I had only perceived a few days or weeks to have passed when the narrative had really spanned months, leading me to feel like I was reading “insta-love.” Thankfully I appreciated Green’s secondary characters and how they all had their own stories and fears and private wars they were battling and their interactions with Hazel (and Gus) helped to draw me in and keep me engaged with the story even when I wasn’t liking the romance. Van Houten was a deliciously obnoxious character and his striking comments and behavior continued to engage me throughout the book, as did the personal struggles of Isaac and Hazel’s parents.
What kept me reading throughout the book was not the romance, but rather the relationships with cancer and how it was dealt with by those with it and those who loved those with it. I was simultaneously fixated and horrified reading about the decline of those with cancer and how “the final days” are for both patients and loved ones. I suppose you could say that while I didn’t like Green’s depiction of romance I liked his perspective, fascinated by the raw yet controlled and accepting way that Hazel interacts with a disease that is caused by a mutation of her own cells, that is a side effect of being herself.
What I Liked:
- Hazel’s narrative voice
- The humor laced throughout the narrative
- The strong peripheral characters who have a big impact
- The candid way topics of death and the afterlife are handled
What I Didn’t Care For:
- Gus (sorry guys, his character just didn’t charm me). His character was just too over the top for me, and he monologued a lot. Also, his constant search for metaphors drove me a little crazy.
- “Okay? Okay”– some of the quotes seemed a little cheesy for me.
- The unclear pacing in the first half of the novel
- The absolutely insane hype surrounding the book! It’s almost like you would have to read it in a vacuum to really give it a fair shot.
Favorite Quotes: So I thought a lot of the traditionally famous quotes from the novel were a bit mediocre, and it was some of the less marketed ones that I really liked!
- “Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” (33)
- “Some tourists think Amsterdam is a city of sin, but in truth it is a city of freedom. And in freedom, most people find sin.”(157)
- “Like all sick children…you say you don’t want pity, but your very existence depends upon it.” (192)
- “There is no honor in dying of.” (217)
Overall: I was pleasantly surprised by Green’s sassy narrative voice and his ability to balance humor and darkness, and I really enjoyed Hazel as a character and her journey with cancer. However, I wish this book had been less of a romance and more about the journey of teenagers with their illnesses instead, as I don’t like Green’s depiction of romance but I like his candid portrayal of teenagers faced with the issue of their own mortality. It was an engaging read, but I’ve read other books about the disease that left me much more emotionally gutted, such as My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult. Would I recommend it? Yes, it’s worth reading, but beware the hype!
Guest Reviewer Reflection
Earlier this week I mentioned on my blog that I was reading TFIOS book club style with my boyfriend, Max. Included in my review is a guest review post by him, sharing his perspective as a twenty-something male on John Green’s novel.
*MINOR SPOILER WARNING*
I’ll begin by saying this book did bring me to tears a few times. The first was when Hazel discusses the events around her first “miracle” in which her parents believed she was close to death, and she speaks of her parent’s reactions. The thing that got me was her father’s repetition of the phrase ‘I love you’ over and over again in a voice Hazel describes as ‘not about to be broken, but broken already.’ Imagining standing over the child I knew was about to die, powerless, filled my eyes with tears. The second was, as Cristina mentioned, seeing the decline of a person with cancer and the exact toll it takes on those around them. I’ll not mention the character and exactly what, but towards the end, perhaps chapters 17 and 18, I was choking on a bit of a lump in my throat.
All that being said, I did enjoy the existentialist themes within this book. I also found myself identifying with Augustus on some uncomfortable levels, seeing myself in his desire for postmortem grandeur, tendency for the over dramatic, and penchant for believing he is far more clever than he may actually be. But while I attempt to hone myself, Augustus embraces all these characteristics as part of his whole self. Don’t misunderstand me; I do not hate Augustus Waters. On the contrary, I admire his admonition that comes late within the novel of these same character flaws. In any case, the book kept me turning pages with its prose and my desire to see exactly where the road would end. Did I call the twist of cruel fate that strikes within the book? Yes. (I apologize, for even that may be enough to spoil something for any of you who have not read the book). This did not stop me from enjoying the ride.
I’d give a recommendation for this book, and at the risk of sounding like a filthy hipster, I do feel as if all the hype surrounding the book damaged the experience somewhat for me as well. I, like my girlfriend, have read much sadder pieces of literature. That being said, I did enjoy this book and would recommend it to anyone who wants to see a bit of a different take on life as a teenager and the struggles that anyone with or close to someone with cancer faces.
Favorite Quote: ”Life is not a wish granting factory.”
What were your thoughts on John Green’s most famous novel? Have you read other works by him that you liked better? Have you read more tragic books this year? Are Hazel and Gus your OTP? Let me know in the comments!