Read this book if you’re in the mood for an amazing young adult book that’s written as much or more for adults than young people OR if you want some fantastic insights into living with (and dying from) cancer.
If I had to sum up this book in one word I’d say brilliant. Truly brilliant. And then I’d probably say honest. And then maybe funny, revelatory, and sad, but maybe not always in that order. The second paragraph begins:
Whenever you read a cancer booklet or website or whatever, they always list depression among the side effects of cancer. But, in fact, depression is not a side effect of cancer. Depression is a side effect of dying.
Brilliant, right? Hazel, who speaks the words above, is a 16 year old girl with terminal cancer who is both honest and perceptive about her situation. Her mom decides she needs to attend a cancer kids support group. Hazel thinks the support group is more depressing than helpful (not in the least because the other members keep dying), but she falls back on her sense of humor to help pass the weekly hour.
And then she meets Gus. Augustus. A boy who’s had cancer but isn’t dying from it. A boy she falls in love with, reluctantly, unwilling to hurt him when her cancer gets worse, as she knows it will.
The story runs full-speed from page one through the end. The plot alone is wonderful, but there’s even more to love. Hazel is hysterical. On fighting cancer:
There was quite a lot of competitiveness [in support group], with everybody wanting to beat not only cancer itself, but also the other people in the room. Like, I realize that this is irrational, but when they tell you that you have, say, a 20 percent chance of living five years, the math kicks in and you figure that’s one in five . . so you look around and think, as any healthy person would: I gotta outlast four of these [losers].
The book also revolves around the power of stories in our life. Hazel has a favorite book, one that speaks to directly to her, as if the author knows exactly what she’s lived through. The impact of this book, and her eventual meeting with the author, add another layer of depth to Hazel’s story.
So to sum up, I thought it was pretty fantastic. There’s some cursing and crudity, pretty much what you’d expect from a clever teenage narrator, but the author didn’t take it so far as to ruin the book for me. If you give it a try, let me know what you think!