in which cancer sucks but John Green doesn't.
- Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book. And then there are books like An Imperial Affliction, which you can’t tell people about, books so special and rare and yours that advertising your affection feels like a betrayal.
If I say nothing else about this book then I at least need to say that this ^^ is possibly the best quote about books and reading that I’ve seen.
Who am I kidding, though. Of course I’ve got more to say.
I’m still in a funny place with The Fault in Our Stars. I can’t get it out of my head. I keep finding myself thinking back to it, and grinning or getting a lump in my throat; I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads because even though I really loved it, I wasn’t sure if I could give 5 stars to a book that broke me. I was in tears for 26%. Does that deserve 5 stars? I’m contemplating upping to a 5 anyway because it’s a week down the line and I’m still thinking about it. It just, it resonated with me on a lot of levels.
There seems to a lot more good YA fiction around these days than there was when I was a young adult, which sucks for the me that was around 10-15 years ago [or, is it just that when I was a young adult I was too busy trying to pretend I wasn’t and so missed it all out trying to be grown up? That’s a definite possibility…] and God, I am so not part of the demographic these books are aimed at but I can’t not read them.
I read an interview recently with John Green [who I love, by the way] where he says something about always being annoyed when adults insult the intelligence of teenagers and that is so on the money and is exactly why someone like me [almost 30 and when did that happen] can still get a hell of a lot out of a book marketed as being YA fiction, because, if well-written it can be just as intelligent and though-provoking and cleverly told and well-woven as any other novel. I think TFiOS is one such book. Hazel and Augustus are two of the most wonderfully crafted characters I’ve read in a long time, and everything about them is so real, not just the cancer of it all but them, as teenagers and as people,
You may or may not know that I lost somebody very very close to me to cancer back in 2005. I don’t talk about it often, because it was a bit shit and it’s easier not to somehow and because I don’t want it to define who I am, and I’m not going to dwell on it now: if you were around back then you know the story and if not, well I don’t want to talk about and you don’t want to read about it but it’s worth mentioning because it feels relevant to my interpretation of and my reaction to this book; I wonder if it’s perhaps why TFiOS has gotten so deeply under my skin. Is it because it’s a genuinely moving book, or, is it because I can relate to it?
I don’t read books about cancer, I put off reading this for a long time. I’d picked it up a few times in bookshops but always put it down, I’d read blogs singing it’s praises [he has a massive massive fan-following our John Green, it’s kind of inspiring] but always thought it wasn’t for me but then curiosity got the better of me. I was reading about this book everywhere and in a completely opposite reaction to the Fifty Shades phenomenon, this time I wanted to see what the fuss was about. I’m still not sure if I’m glad about that or not. I honestly have no clue – even a week after finishing it – how I feel about it. Some of the story is so subtle, so clever that you don’t even realise that’s another of your heartstrings snapped right in two until it’s happened. There’s this one line for example, a simple ‘he’d taken the elevator’ [which means nothing out of context I am aware and I apologise] and I read it and I had to take a really massive breath because wow, that hurt when I wasn’t expecting to be hurt and you totally snuck that in there Mr. Green, and that’s what good writing is about, right? The ability to say so much by saying not a lot at all?
The book tells Hazel’s story and Hazel is incredible. She knows she’s dying, she knows she’s going to die and she’s accepted it. She thinks it sucks, but she’s accepted it; she talks about when she’ll die and not if. She’s dying this kid, and you better just deal with it because I am telling you now and this is not a spoiler: magical cures do not exist in these pages.
And then Hazel meets Augustus at a cancer support group, Augustus Waters who makes her see herself in a different light, makes her see her life in a different light and the slow unfolding of her relationship with him is so raw and so honest and so beautiful that it makes your chest tight. Hazel is adorable and God, I know I’d have been in love with Gus when I was 16 [I love him so much now] and watching them grow together, discovering the depth Green brings to their characters and to their relationship, it kind of felt like an honour.
He’s funny too, John Green - he had me laughing out loud even though my eyes were stinging but it’s no light-hearted comedy; when it needs to be sad it’s really freaking sad. I’m talking actual sobs, tipping my head back and closing my eyes and counting to ten because I just can’t. I’m talking wet neck people, wet neck. This book is capital letter SAD.
The thing about cancer is it’s fucking awful. It’s ruthless and it’s angry and it’s devouring and it just takes takes takes til there’s nothing left and when it’s taken everything it hangs around and it haunts the people it’s left behind. Green seems to get that, he gets what it does and he gets what it’s like to watch and he does not shy away from it and it gives me goose-bumps even now thinking about the way in which he’s approached it – and how brave because it’s a subject so close to so many, that people see so personally. He did it justice though I think, more than. These two kids, Hazel who is terminally ill and so damn sassy and Augustus who is in recovery and has this mindblowing zest for life falling in love and knowing it’s not going to last as long as they want but being unable to do anything about it and wanting to just make the most of whatever they have is so beautiful. The last quarter or so of the book is perhaps the most painful piece of writing I’ve ever read.
Let’s be real here. This book broke me into pieces; I thought I could handle it but I couldn’t and you know what? It wasn’t all because of the memories it awoke, or because I was crying for myself. It wasn’t. I mean yeah, some of it hit home harder because of that, some of it hurt a little more, some of it was harder to read because of how true it was and because I remember what that was like, but most of all I hurt for Hazel and Augustus and for Hazel’s parents [Hazel’s Mum and Dad are very well-written, which I liked because often in YA fiction the adults aren’t as fully fleshed so well done Mr. Green]; most of all I was just lost in this beautiful awful wonderful heart-breaking story and I’m reminded a little bit of Love Story, which I stupidly read when I was about 14 and God, I thought I’d never be happy again and I still can’t talk about it without crying. [“What can you say about a twenty-five year old girl who died? That she was beautiful and brilliant. That she loved Mozart and Bach. The Beatles. And me.” And love means never having to say you’re sorry and the fact that Jenny’s last words were thanks Ollie and who gave you the right Erich Seagal, who? I am still not over it.]
TFiOS is better than Love Story.
I finished reading at 1.30 in the morning with tears streaming down my face and didn’t sleep much and was sad to my very core. And then I got up and went to work and was ok, and thought I was fine, and then a few days passed and I was sat at my desk yesterday and just remembered:
“Hazel GRACE!” he shouted. “You did not use your one dying Wish to go to Disney World with your parents.”
“Also Epcot Center,” I mumbled.
“Oh, my God,” Augustus said. “I can’t believe I have a crush on a girl with such cliché wishes.”
I emailed Helen who was about ¾ of the way through and tried to tell her I had a sad but tried not to tell her why and I realised I wasn’t ok. I was drowning in feelings, so here I am blogging it out and trying to make some sense of how I feel and quite honestly getting nowhere other than it’s a good book and it’s a funny book and it’s a sad book and I don’t know whether I think you should read it or not and cancer sucks.
Thank-you for your time.