I’d heard about this book a while back – two teen kids with cancer, Hazel and Augustus, hook up and fall in love. You just know where it’s headed. And you’re right. Cry? Yep, you’ll probably do that – I cried from about page 213 on, and choked up much earlier on, but I’m a big softie, I can admit it. It only takes a headline to set me off at times.
Now, so far if I’d read the above paragraph about a book, I’d probably avoid that book for all it was worth. But I’d heard other things about this book as well. That it was packed with laugh-aloud dialogue, that it was a very literary novel (a book and obsession with a book are at the heart of it) and that it was also deeply philosophical. The Fault in Our Stars is all this. The humour is very good, the dialogue between these teenagers can be hilarious at times, even while they’re poking fun at their various forms of cancers. “But who so firm cannot be seduced?”
As a parent, I felt for the parents who whilst obviously suffering enormously for their children were given somewhat off-hand treatment, but then I reminded myself that these kids are teenagers. This is what teenagers do, and that’s the whole point of this novel. Just because they have cancer doesn’t mean they are cancer. They still need to be able to define themselves, and step away from their parents. They are still seeking their own identities. And they are trying to grasp the reality that they don’t have to be heroic or have to do something spectacular in life, but just the fact that they have lived, that they have loved and been loved, that that is enough. It’s a tough realisation to come to – that you don’t have enough time to make anything of yourself in a world where making something of yourself is all, and accept yourself for just what you are, nothing more than that.
It does slip into some schmaltz. There is the scene where they kiss and people applaud (why do Americans do that???) but in this book all is forgiven.
There is so much more in this novel. Obviously, questions of life and death. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is dissected. Shakespeare has a role (as reflected in the title). The obsession with the novel inside the novel adds a wonderful layer, and raises more questions about author responsibility, and I loved the absurd character of the reclusive, opinionated author!
A “For sale” ad written up by Hazel and Augustus sums up the mood of the novel:
Desperately Lonely Swing Set Needs Loving Home
One swing set, well worn but structurally sound, seeks new home. Make memories with your kid or kids so that someday he or she or they will look into the backyard and feel the ache of sentimentality as desperately as I did this afternoon. It’s all fragile and fleeting, dear reader, but with this swing set, your child(ren) will be introduced to the ups and downs of human life gently and safely, and may also learn the most important lesson of all: No matter how hard you kick, no matter how high you get, you can’t go all the way around.
I loved this novel and will pass it on!