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The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The Fault in Our Stars and Emily Reddy
Kelly Tunney

I just finished reading the young adult novel The Fault in Our Stars. This puts me only a couple of years behind hundreds of thousands of teenaged girls and boys. Since the book was released in 2012, it has spent 132 weeks on the New York Times Young Adult bestseller list. 132 weeks! It’s so popular, it’s pulled 3 of John Green’s older novels onto the list along with it. Tomorrow it will be released in movie form. If you go, look for familiar sights. The movie was filmed in Pittsburgh.

The book hasn’t quite reached Harry Potter or Hunger Games status, but I’d heard enough about it to get curious and decide to give it a try. I was also interested because I’m just a couple degrees of Kevin Bacon from the author. I went to college with the author’s brother, Hank Green. I didn’t know him well, but it’s a small college with few notable alums, so I’m claiming a connection there.  You may have seen videos featuring Hank or John Green on social media—they send video blogs back and forth to each other that have gathered quite a following.

But back to the book. If you have managed to miss hearing about The Fault in Our Stars until now, here’s the low-down: It’s about kids with cancer. Whomp, whomp, whomp. Sounds depressing, right? There are definitely sad parts, and I may or may not have spent large chunks of the novel weeping on my couch, but it’s also humorous.

The characters are quirky and well-developed and likable. The main character is a 16-year-old girl named Hazel, who has an interesting inner monologue and is fairly believable, which is impressive since the author is a 36-year-old guy.

At its heart, this is a story about love… in spite of obstacles and in the face of death. Hazel has trouble breathing because her terminal thyroid cancer has spread to her lungs. Her love interest, Augustus, is down a leg because of his cancer.

Hazel and Augustus meet at a Support Group for kids with cancer. They bond over existentialism and Hazel’s favorite – and very philosophical – novel. There are references to Romeo and Juliet. This is not one of those “Happily Ever After” books. Instead it’s a “realities of life” book. Hazel and Augustus constantly reject the trite, sugarcoated language most people use when they talk about cancer.

If the book has any failings, it’s that Hazel and Augustus seem a shade too precocious and self-aware. Or maybe the cancer has just made them more insightful than your everyday teenager.

When I was a teenager, dark dystopian novels were my favorite. I like this book now, but I would have loved it as the teen I once was. Parents of teens – sick or healthy – might not enjoy it as much. But if you’re a teenager or adult who wants someone to tell it to you straight, The Fault in Our Stars might be the book for you.

- Emily Reddy is the news director at WPSU-FM. She lives in Lemont.

Emily Reddy is the news director at WPSU-FM, the NPR-affiliate public radio station for central and northern Pennsylvania.
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