Two years post-miracle, sixteen-year-old Hazel is post-everything else, too; post-high school, post-friends and post-normalcy. And even though she could live for a long time (whatever that means), Hazel lives tethered to an oxygen tank, the tumours tenuously kept at bay with a constant chemical assault.
Enter Augustus Waters. A match made at cancer kid support group, Augustus is gorgeous, in remission, and shockingly to her, interested in Hazel. Being with Augustus is both an unexpected destination and a long-needed journey, pushing Hazel to re-examine how sickness and health, life and death, will define her and the legacy that everyone leaves behind.
This novel has (as of this writing) 202,964 ratings on Goodreads with an average of 4.53 stars. Don’t know about you, but I would kill for that. This novel has also had many awards being thrown at. Many reviewers have confessed to bawling at the end. Others hail this as John Green’s greatest work to date. I, on the other hand, think differently.
The only other novel by John Green I have ever read is Looking for Alaska and that book left me completely and utterly raw at the end. I did not know how to feel because I felt like every single emotion was fighting for supremacy within me. I just was. Looking for Alaska remains to be one of my favorite novels of all time and a novel I like to tell other people to read. Judging by everyone’s reactions, I assumed this was going to be Looking for Alaska for me all over again, but it wasn’t; this book is inferior. It tries so hard to be superior, desperately clinging to every single tragedy it can and being philosophical, but regardless of Green’s eloquence and philosophical talk between two teenagers, it still comes up as inferior.
Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. I consumed it. I screamed at it. I had some of the FEELS. I started reading it on Wednesday around 7 PM and finished it on Thursday at 9 PM. And that wasn’t marathon reading either; I mean, to say, I didn’t stop my life like I did with the Harry Potter novels. I still slept and ate and socialized and worked. But the pace of the book (I’m assuming because it has a lot of dialogue) is relatively fast and the next thing I knew I was halfway through it! I loved the characters and the way they were portrayed. They treated each other as if they had no disabilities or sickness and it reminded me of how Toph Beifong is treated in Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is really really great because they treat her like a normal person as if she had no disability whatsoever.
Because this novel is about cancer, (spoiler alert!) someone does die. And you grab this book, knowing that it’s a cancer book, knowing that because it’s a cancer book someone has to die and yet you cannot help but cling to this hope that everyone will make it out okay. That everyone will be. That death will not happen. But then you realize that you thinking that way is, essentially, a side effect of dying, because in the end everyone dies and there will be no one — not one person — who will remember you. I did get a little teary-eyed at the end and though I didn’t feel that same exact raw feeling I had when I read Looking for Alaska, it still got me thinking about life in general and what will become of us when we’re all dead and gone. And I think that’s part of the magic of this book. It makes you think and John Green deserves an award just for that because, quite frankly, there aren’t a lot of novels that do that anymore.
I think part of the reason I felt this novel lacked a bit is because it’s trying to be so much more than it is. You have two, uber intellectual teenagers going through cancer with one who only has one leg. They have this huge vocabulary (and I have no idea how many teens actually talk like that) and they talk about life and death as I like to imagine the great Greek philosophers thought about life and death. Because they have cancer, I’m sure they’re more acutely aware of life and death and think about it more often than the average healthy person. But I knew (and here’s my fatal flaw) that Green could do better than that. I knew he could squeeze out his message without all the dialogue. I wanted to see more fight or passion or something from Hazel and Augustus. Though this is told in the first person, I felt like Hazel was missing some sort of spark. Like I wasn’t feeling everything she was feeling or something. And though I think the sex scene was handled nicely, I think that was a moment where Green could’ve really amped up some feelings in there, just as he did in the make-out scene in Looking for Alaska — passionate, lovely, beautiful.
People who enjoy contemporary/literary novels or fans of John Green novels. Nerdfighters FTW.
Let’s talk about that cover for a second. I hate it. I think it does no justice to the inside of the novel. Like, I kinda get it (or maybe I’m telling myself that there’s some deeper meaning behind it) but the cover is just ugh. You look at it and you don’t want to take the novel seriously, but the truth is: You have no choice but to take the novel seriously. Because it’s a serious novel full of truly laugh out loud moments.