John Green’s best-selling novel The Fault in Our Stars may be marketed for the young adult reader, but trust me on this one, it will knock your socks off. Mr. Green is a brilliant storyteller and has nailed the world of adolescents with cancer.
His newest volume is a tender, authentic, entertaining tale about two teenagers, Hazel and Augustus. They meet at a cancer support group humorously described by Hazel, as only a sullen teen can do. Hazel’s drudgery is redeemed when Augustus appears and flirts with her throughout the monotonous hour. Their relationship takes off quickly and we are drawn into a world of wisdom beyond their years. Seeing the world through an adolescent mind, especially one that has faced down death, at least for the moment, is worth the time.
The climax of the story occurs in Amsterdam. Augustus uses his Make a Wish trip to take the two of them to meet Peter Van Houten, a reclusive author of an esoteric tome that has become their raison d’être. The meeting does not go well. Adolescent invincibility meets real life alcoholism with an old-man-mean-spirit. But the night they spend together licking their wounds redefines their relationship. John Green deftly portrays adolescent romance with humanism, honesty, and certainly, humour.
The story ends with tragedy and revelation. Let’s just say there is plenty of affect for any reader. The parents are minor characters in this story, but they are central to the resolution.
Teenagers are known to carry this book around to be discussed and re-read at every opportunity. They underline phrases and write in the margins and argue points of view. The adults are universally surprised by the power of this story and its grip on the imagination. The characters and their stories linger long after completing the last page.
The Fault in Our Stars is without doubt a wise and wonderful story that is narrative at its best. Whether you recommend it to medical students and residents as a way to fictionally encounter the teen with life-limiting illness, or you pass it along to colleagues for other reasons, they will thank you, and you will have a new bond, like sharing a favourite patient, or caring for each other’s children.