This is a touching story about the brilliance and engulfing power of first love. But there is a twist: the main characters, Hazel Lancaster, and Augustus Waters, meet at a teen support group for cancer. Hazel has outlasted her life expectancy due to a wonder drug, and Augustus had a leg amputated to prevent the spread of the disease.
Although highly recommended by several friends, I had to steel myself to read this one. I lost a close friend (and former boyfriend) to cancer last year, and I was not sure I was up to reading about two teens with cancer as they negotiate a relationship forever circumscribed by the death sentence hanging over the main character, Hazel.
Much to my surprise, I laughed far more than I cried. I actually barely cried at all, but most readers will. (Chalk up my lack of tears to many tears shed for my personal loss). This novel is sharp and witty, and full of little gems of wisdom. The youth of the characters, combined with the certain level of freedom from social expectations they have due to their diagnoses enables them to believably express a range of emotions that most of us feel, but tend to repress. Much more happens in the story than one might expect based on the premise.
Even though this is a young adult novel, (which I rarely read), its hit-you-over-the-head life lessons were refreshing. I found myself wanting to write down quote after quote, much like when I was an avid teen reader. On the other hand, I can certainly understand why some reviewers accused Mr. Green of “emotional blackmail.” It is true this book is nothing if not a tearjerker. But it is a fast read, and with the right mindset, a powerful exploration of a painful topic that unfortunately will touch everyone eventually. A hopeful and accurate observation is that “grief does not change you…it reveals you.” And so we can hope to grow through the types of heartbreaks John Green bravely engages in this book.