Hazel is dying. She’s dying increasingly slowly due to the latest experimental treatment being tested on her lung cancer, and she’s acutely aware that we’re all dying at one rate or another, but she’s still dying considerably faster than average. In spite of her hopes to cause as little damage on the way out as possible, she and Augustus, a boy from her youth cancer patient support group, can’t help reaching out to each other, sharing their fight and their final musings on the nature of the universe.
The nearest I can come to a concrete criticism is that symbolism and analysis thereof is occasionally forced into more places than it feels natural. More than that, though, the downside for me was admittedly completely beyond the book’s control. Hard as I try not to let myself do this, with the massive hype and praise being rained down upon it, I found myself expecting it to completely blow my mind. Instead it was just really good.
It was, as stated above, really good. Though it must be noted that I have never fought a protracted battle against a life-threatening illness or been extremely close to anyone who has, Hazel’s contemplation of her situation seems, to this non-expert, strikingly honest.
The writing itself pulls off being both authentically YA and unabashedly literary. It doesn’t hold its teenage characters or their teenage qualities at the judgmental arm’s length common in “serious” portrayals of teens, but nor does it underestimate the mental capacities of its teenage readers. It dares both to reference formal philosophy and to criticize it, all within Hazel and Augustus’s believable banter, in a way reminiscent of A Little Romance.
Hazel and Augustus are both brilliant and charming people, and their relationship manages to overcome the certainty in the back of everyone’s mind, including theirs, that this story will not end well, making it impossible not to attach to them anyway.
It’s a story that compels the reader at gunpoint to be glad to be alive, and it succeeds.
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