Thursday, January 10, 2013

Review: The Fault in Our Stars

My initial draw to this book was the author himself. Following John Green and his brother, Hank, on their YouTube channel The Vlogbrothers has been a guilty pleasure of mine for a couple of years. When John was in the process of writing The Fault in Our Stars he would post video updates on his research trip to Amsterdam, on his pledge to sign every one of the 100,000 pre-ordered copies of the book (which he completed to the point of requiring occupational therapy), on inspirational notes from his editor, and on his moving experience with one of his dedicated fans, Esther Earl, who sadly died of cancer at the age of sixteen.

I suppose I bought into the transmedia franchise of this self-made celebrity with an adoring online fan community. I felt it created a reading experience that extended beyond the book, to the book's creation and to active reader engagement (a community that extends far beyond my knowledge of mainstream internet celebrity into forums and fan sites and the far reaches of internet subculture). I waited patiently for my pre-ordered, pre-signed copy in the mail... and then I put it aside nearly a year before I managed to peel past the autograph and the dedication to Esther Earl.

The focal point of this young adult novel is Hazel Grace, a sixteen year old with cancer (whom the author swears is not a reincarnation of Esther, but admits she was an influence in the creation of the story). The beauty of The Fault in Our Stars is that it is a young adult book that makes teenage angst not only bearable, but also beautiful. It's a book that centres around teenagers who are truly dying but desire so desperately to live; kids who are facing death by means beyond their control. In the process of losing their ability to walk, to see, and to breathe (depending on their given cancer), and watching their friends disappear around them, they come to terms with their own final days not of youth, but of life. It has enough humour--dark and light--to keep momentum, and only a few eye-rolling moments that are perhaps more clownish than their intent to deflate some tension. Perhaps the most enjoyable part is the book's refreshing honesty as it deals with doubts about life and its meaning. It deals with the parents pain as well, and their perpetual anticipation of the loss of their children. It deals with the pain of a first amorous teenaged affair being the one and only, in a world where dying first is preferable to being left behind by your cancer-ridden pair. The book doesn't pretend to offer answers. It doesn't enforce false comfort. Instead, it acknowledges the simple truth of inevitability, and appreciating the beauty of life in the moment and the privilege of knowing and loving those who love us back.

It was well worth the dive into the world of internet celebrity to find gems of honest storytelling. 

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