(Note: This a very personal review, and it was necessary to mention certain parts of the story in it. I tried to keep it as spoiler free as possible, but if you know nothing about this book, I suggest you wait until you’ve read it, to read my review.)
To be honest, it took me a long time to pick this book up because I was afraid of how it would affect me. I have read other books dealing with mental illness/love that left me feeling depressed, for various reasons, but usually because the characters were so relatable that I’d start comparing my life to theirs. That is my excuse as to why I avoided this book I’ve heard so many good things about, for so long, why I was literally afraid to read this book.
But I have now read it, and I have a lot of things to say about it.
I finally decided to read this book for some unconscious reason. I was feeling brave, and it seemed to nag me from the shelf. It was somehow what I expected, and not what I expected at the same time. The story, which was fairly simple, was super easy to get into, and I finished it in about three days. The same night I finished it, I started it over again.
I was, once again, blown away by John Green’s writing. It was very fluid and real, like a person’s direct thoughts captured on the page, which is why it was so easy to read. For the most part, I’d say he has an amazing ability to write teenagers. However, the writing was not quite flawless. It’s going great, perfect, until Augustus is introduced. Hazel is instantly captured by him because he’s sooo hot. Because like a stereotypical teenage girl, the first thing she notices about him is whether or not he’s hot. It’s not creepy at all that he’s staring at her, and she justifies this by saying how inappropriate it would be if he were not hot. “But a hot boy...well.” It does not seem very realistic, especially the instant change in writing that takes place while Hazel talks about this hot boy. Luckily, after they become friends and then date, the writing does not break into these unnecessary gushes again.
Now, onto the characters.
As a defiant, outcast teenager, I think I would have appreciated the sarcastic and comically pretentious characters a bit more. They are, essentially, the too-cool-to-like-what’s-cool type of teenagers that I unfortunately once was myself, which can be summed up in this line: “I take quite a lot pride in not knowing what’s cool,” I answered. The dialogue between Hazel and Augustus was entertaining at times, and admirable at others. They spoke unlike average teenagers, and it was clear that while it seemed to come easy to Hazel, I could imagine Augustus spending many years mastering the art of metaphoric speaking. They did not talk like typical teenagers, but then again, they were not typical teenagers. Being surrounded by and faced with death forced them to become wise, despite the fact that they are still kids. Augustus was a little over the top, with his unsmoked cigarettes and soliloquies. It’s difficult to imagine a real boy acting how he does.
While Hazel grew on me, both her and Augustus being so purposefully pretentious and insensitive was the biggest downfall of this book. At first I couldn’t understand why Hazel fell so quickly for Augustus, after he explained his overwhelming love of metaphors. Hazel seemed to me like the kind of girl who would avoid someone like Augustus; I imagined she’d resist his slightly conceded demeanor. But I soon realized that she was just like him, and the two of them went together well, despite their obvious faults, or even because of their obvious faults.
Peter Van Houten, the author of Hazel’s favorite book An Imperial Affliction, is sort of an adult version of Augustus and Hazel, but lacking the maturity. In his letters to Hazel and Augustus, he uses highly impressive language, but his fake invitation to them to come to Amsterdam proves that he’s not the amazing person he tries to get people to imagine. He bothered me more than Augustus and Hazel combined.
It was quite refreshing to read about how involved Hazel’s parents were. They weren’t just there or non-important, like in so many YA books. They were present in the story, as strong, believable characters. They were flawed, as people are, but they weren’t cast as annoying or in the way, by Hazel. I enjoyed finding out about how much Hazel’s dad cries, and how strong her mom is. Come to think of it, Hazel’s mom was probably one of the best characters in the story. She was realistic and believable. She went on the trip with Hazel and Augustus, which I can imagine, if written by someone else, she wouldn’t have gone, which would make it more ‘romantic’, but lessen its believability.
The plot of this book was fairly simple, the flow of a growing romance, with reminders of Hazel’s cancer throughout. It was very enjoyable, though somewhat predictable. One thing I would have liked to see is the connection between Hazel’s affinity to America’s Next Top Model and their trip to Amsterdam. I know this is a trivial addition, but anyone who watches ANTM probably envied the models’ trip to Amsterdam, and I wished that Hazel had mentioned it, if only to make the whole thing more believable. But surely John Green does not watch the show, so…
This was a book that made me feel, but not in such a brutal way that I regret reading it. The relationship between Hazel and Augustus, but specifically Hazel’s loss of him, made me realize how lucky I am to have someone in my life that is as special to me (except more) as Augustus was to Hazel. It made me appreciate that we have the future to look forward to, even though right now things aren’t perfect. It made me feel blessed to have him, and a loving, although far from perfect, family.
This book made me feel, not not just toward the characters, but translated in my life. It is so powerful when a story can do that, especially one so easy to read. I was again stunned by John Green’s ability to capture such emotions through simple characters and unembellished writing. This was not only an amazing YA novel, but a book anyone can read and understand the message of. Though this book and its characters are not for everyone, those who want to give it a read will be hit hard with lots of emotions that will sink in slowly over time. Which is why, by the time I finished reading it, I wanted to start it again.