I bought this book a while ago, before I knew there was even a film coming out, but I think subconsciously I had put off reading it for fear it would be too depressing. I was wrong. Whilst this book is sad in parts, it’s also full of hope and humour. I’m going to have a hard time writing an objective review given how much I fell in love this this masterpiece.
The story is told through the eyes of 17-year-old Hazel Grace. Hazel has stage 4 thyroid cancer in her lungs – she’s considered a terminal case and, as a result, was withdrawn from school years before. She lives a relatively solitary life – she struggles to connect with other teenagers due to her illness and considers her parents and the writer of her favourite book as her best friends. She knows her time is running out and so it is understandable that her outlook is a little bleak – she explains it by saying ‘depression is a side effect of dying’ but her parents are concerned about her mental well-being and so they decide she should attend a cancer support group.
Hazel isn’t keen on the idea – “The Support Group, of course, was depressing as hell” but she makes the most of it, befriending a fellow cancer sufferer called Isaac. Isaac is shortly due to undergo an operation which will render him blind, and so one day he brings his friend Augustus Waters along to the group for moral support. Gus fits in at the group; has an understanding of their situation having lost a leg to osteosarcoma, but he has been in remission for years.
The attraction between Hazel and Gus is instant. Hazel goes back to his house the evening they meet to watch V for Vendetta after Gus persuades her that she looks exactly like Natalie Portman (what girl wouldn’t be happy with that?) As they gradually get to know each other, Hazel discovers more of a reason to stay alive than ever before. She shares her favourite book with him, and they embark on an adventure overseas to get answers about the story’s abrupt ending. Whilst they don’t get the answers they were looking for, the trip changes their lives in other ways.
This book is awash with symbolism and metaphor throughout, to the point where some may find it pretentious. I didn’t think so – the story is narrated by Hazel, and I think you would get pretty contemplative if you were staring death in the face every day. Hazels narrative is reflective, pholisophical and profound; considering both the bigger picture and the little things in life. It makes you look at things differently. Whilst embarking on a relationship where you know you will end up alone may seem like carrying around a grenade, waiting for the day it explodes, this book shows that that is not the case. The two always know at the back of their minds that their time together is limited, and that just makes it all the more special.
As I neared the end of the book, I found myself trying to stretch out my reading – I knew it was likely at least one of them would die, and I wanted to stay in a world where they were alive a little longer; I wanted to stay in their little infinity. Green’s characters are loveable and lifelike, I found myself missing and mourning them after I’d finished the novel.
This book is witty, wise and poignant and I’d recommend it to anyone. It’s the first John Green I have read, but it won’t be the last.