Penguin Group, NY, NY 2012
There is a good reason that this book was on the New York Times bestseller list. It’s smart. It’s honest. It’s funny. It’s compelling. It’s very modern and very literary at the same time. This is a teen/young adult story that reads well for adults.
The main characters in this story are a group of teens with unusual and terminal cancers. There are certainly tearful moments in the narrative. Kids like these do not spend their entire lives thinking about their illness or their mortality and neither do these characters. There is a lot of humor, and plenty of gallows humor, that rings very true.
John Green is very explicit that this is a fictional story. He actively discourages his readers from looking for some key to his real life. He even makes up the treatments. Still it is clear that he has at least spoken with kids in this age group with similar issues. The attitudes and aggravations will be familiar to anyone who’s ever spend time on a pediatric cancer ward.
Like most teens these characters are interested in love and relationships. They want to make something of their lives. They suffer from teen angst and depression. They are bored to tears with the stories of adult survivors.
The juxtaposition of America’s Next Top Model (a favorite TV show of our main character Hazel) with a girl who just wants to be left alone is poignant. Top Chef seems to come into the TV schedule when our characters are having trouble keeping any interest in eating. Modern culture plays as important a literary role as Shakespeare, a hamster named Sisyphus, and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs all of which are debated for their credibility by the teens.
These characters are smart kids. They are exploring big questions like “Why are we here?” and “Is there something after”. Their illness just puts an urgency to that searching that is uncommon. There is humor, and some of it gallows humor but there is also whimsy. Because there may not be a tomorrow these characters are expert at living in the moment and seeing truth in the nonsense of everyday living.
This is a book that will make you think. It’s a book that may inspire you. It’s a book that will leave you full.