Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars...

John Green, with misplaced manuscript

Sixteen-year-old Hazel Grace has stage four cancer that is spreading to her lungs. Thanks to a hopeful new trial drug, the growth of her cancer has been halted for a time. At a cancer support group meeting to help her deal with her depression,  Hazel meets Augustus Waters, a handsome, charming young man whose own cancer prognosis looks better than Hazel’s. Hazel is drawn to Augustus' sense of humour, unique worldview and thorough grasp of irony and metaphor. Augustus has a weird habit of dangling an unlit cigarette between his lips, but later explains: “It's a metaphor, see. You put the killing thing right between your teeth, but you don't give it the power to do its killing.” Hazel’s relationship with Augustus and their shared love of a book called An Imperial Affliction by a reclusive Dutch writer named Peter van Houten take them along an unusual path of self-discovery.

Beautifully written and filled with humour, The Fault in Our Stars is also one of the most highly anticipated Young Adult titles this year. And it’s no wonder. It’s author, John Green, has almost two million followers on Twitter ( and a whole community of nerdy fans at vlogbrothers ( , a collection of video journals that are a back and forth correspondence with his brother Hank. The videologs are caffeine-fuelled musings on just about everything worth talking about. It’s not an exaggeration to say that Green’s fans are of the die-hard variety, regularly posting encouraging comments on his website like “I can’t wait to receive my signed, pre-ordered copy of your new book so I can lick your signature!” OK, maybe no one actually said that, but you get the idea.

The new book does NOT disappoint. The plot and topic of this new book was a closely-guarded secret with Green and his publishers for a while, so I had no idea what this one was about. John Green could sell his shopping lists on ebay and make a fortune so it almost seemed like what he chose to write about was irrelevant. But here’s the kicker: The Fault in Our Stars is about one of the single most difficult topics around: childhood cancer. In a lesser writer’s hands, this would be the kind of book I would diligently avoid; however, this is why it’s not a problem:

1)      John Green’s previous (and award-winning) book Looking for Alaska deals with death in a sensitive, intelligent, and even, at times, humorous way.
2)      Green writes teenage dialogue good enough to make Joss Whedon (Buffy) and Amy Sherman-Palladino (Gilmore Girls) sit up and take notice.
3)     The Fault in Our Stars is filled with lots of literary references and poetry. I love that Green never assumes that his audience is stupid.

The Fault in Our Stars will be a feast for existing John Green fans, and--for new readers--a great introduction to a young adult writer at the top of his game.


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