"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
January 28, 2014
The Fault in Our Stars
by Erin Cowles

John Green reigns supreme in the world of realistic YA fiction. Throughout 2013, he had a minimum of two books in the New York Times Top 10 best sellers for YA titles. It wasn't unusual for all four of his authored-alone novels to be there. He has a cult-like following on the video blog he co-authors with his brother.

Best of all, actual teenagers adore him. When I took a friend who had never heard of him to see him speak at the National Book Festival in 2012, the screaming hoards of teenagers rather terrified her (her response: "I didn't know I agreed to go to a rock concert with you"). Oh, and I should clarify that none of the screaming was because they thought he was hot -- it was because he was funny and profound.

I respect John Green. I love the way he doesn't talk down to teens, challenging them with sophisticated vocabulary, hard-core literary references, and tough questions with untidy answers. I enjoy his sense of humor.

I appreciate that he writes for teenage boys that aren't interested in dragons and spaceships. I like that he writes about parents that are flawed but truly good people. I love what he brings to the YA genre.

Despite all this, I hesitated to take on The Fault in Our Stars. I tend to avoid cancer books because I feel they are usually emotionally manipulative and a lazy way to make people cry. But when a good friend of mine, who not only shares my sentiments on the genre, but whose mother died of cancer, recommended it to me, I decided to give it a chance.

Sparks immediately fly between Hazel and Gus when they meet at a cancer kid support group. Hazel's cancer is terminal, and although her condition is stable, she has checked out of life as much as possible because she worries about hurting people when she dies. Gus is in remission, but still worries about whether his life will have meant anything after he dies.

The ensuing romance, formed over books, deep philosophical questions, and video games is witty, heart-warming and satisfying. The trip to Amsterdam will satisfy those that like to swoon, and realists will appreciate the oxygen tanks and vomit involved in a romance between cancer sufferers. Through their connection, the duo learns to embrace love and life, in all its messiness, pain, and transience.

All of the hallmark traits of Green's writing I'd mentioned earlier are present in this book, and I appreciate that he varies from his usual formula of "geeky boy adores unattainable girl and goes on a road trip." Well, there's still a road trip, but not the unrequited love bit. And the girl thoroughly out-geeks the boy.

I've placed my recommended age a little higher on this one because there is sex, language, and underage drinking. Nothing is gratuitous, but it is there.

Although I wasn't among the large numbers of readers who bawled at the end, I found this to be a well-crafted, thought-provoking, and charming romance.

Read this book if...

  • You want a cancer book that is actually about cancer patients, not their friends and loved ones. Hazel and Gus aren't clichés people react to. They are fully-developed characters in their own right.
  • You want a romance boys can enjoy because the boy actually acts like a boy, rather than a girl's fantasy version of a boy.
  • You enjoy witty dialogue and pondering the deep questions in life.

Target Audience: Ages 16+.


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About Erin Cowles

Erin Cowles is a mother of two, living in the Washington D.C. suburbs. Before motherhood, she used her masters in library and information science in a law firm library. Now she uses it to find good books for her family at her local public library. She teaches part time for a SAT prep company, where she enjoys the challenge of making rather dull subject matter interesting and making college a reality for her students. During women's history month, she profiles Mormon women that inspire her at ldswomenshistory.blogspot.com.

Erin currently serves as a counselor in her ward's primary presidency.

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