I received a book voucher for Christmas. I haven’t had one of those in years so was excited to go to my local bookstore to browse. I had seen The Fault in Our Stars by John Green on bestseller lists for a while, but never really paid close attention to what it was about. Then I heard that a movie based on the book was coming out this year so decided to give it a read.
My head must have been well and truly buried in the sand these last six months because I had no idea what it was about before starting to read it. I don’t think I even glanced at the blurb on the back before I bought it. So I didn’t realise that the main protagonists were teenagers – or I should say young adults given how wise and mature they came across on the page. And I didn’t realise that the main character Hazel was fighting terminal cancer nor that she would meet the love of her life in a Cancer Kid Support Group. I started reading this book thinking of it as a young adult book, but soon realised that it had that YA cross-generational appeal.
It’s one of those novels that you read quickly over a period of a couple of days because it sucks you in. Hazel is a character who is smart, funny and strong and resigned to the fact that she will soon die. She is older than her years because her illness has made her that way. And it’s even more poignant given that her parents love her so much and she is their only child. She is not leaving the house much and reading her favourite book over and over. The book is about a girl with cancer and the author writes in such a way that it mirrors exactly how Hazel feels about her cancer. The book also abruptly ends in the middle of a sentence leaving Hazel to wonder what happened to the characters.
Hazel meets Augustus Waters in a support group for teens with cancer, or in Gus’s case, in remission from cancer. They bond over their mutual black humour over the group’s positivity. It’s hard enough being a teen, let alone one going through the harshness of cancer and Gus draws Hazel out of her anti-social funk and makes her feel like an actual teenager again, rather than just a cancer patient.
Then the pair get the opportunity to go to Amsterdam to meet the author of Hazel’s favourite book. I’ll leave it there as I don’t want to give too much away …
You’re going to read this and feel teary. You’re going to get a surprise. And you’re going to wish for some miracle cure for cancer. But literature, as in life, doesn’t always give us the ending we want. That’s what makes this such a bittersweet read.