YOUNG ADULTI don't have an aversion to Young Adult fiction as such. I've read the whole Twilight quadrilogy from cover to cover to cover! And you know I love a good bit of sci-fi, so I have read and enjoyed quite a few of the YA dystopian novels that have been all over the place in the past year or so. But there's a certain something about the writing style that seems common to the genre and has thus far prevented any YA reads from really wowing me. For this challenge I thought I'd try a new-to-me author with a huge cult following who is often heralded as a particularly intelligent and witty voice in the world of YA fiction. I chose a novel that has had seriously overwhelming positive reviews (4.5 and 4.8 star average rating on Goodreads and Amazon respectively). How could I go wrong?
Hazel was diagnosed with metastatic thyroid cancer at the age of thirteen. Three years later the disease is being kept at bay indefinitely thanks to an experimental new drug. Her days are spent carting her oxygen tank between college, home, and Cancer Kid Support Group. Her treatment regime means that she has little time for friends her own age, and besides, now that she's a Cancer Kid most of them don't know how to behave around her anyway. So she is intrigued to say the least when an attractive and witty young man named Augustus Waters turns up unexpectedly at support group one week.
The predominant niggle that stopped me from really losing myself in this book is that Hazel and Gus just don't come across as realistic teenagers at all. They both have this incredibly verbose, Dawson's Creek-esque way of speaking that is laden with cheesy metaphors:
"My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations"The whole thing is narrated by Hazel, and the insight that that gives into her thought processes and inner dialogue makes her just about relatable, but Augustus feels like he's reading from a script the whole time. I had this sense that for every frank exchange of emotions between them, they had spent five minutes flipping through a thesaurus beforehand. I found this really annoying to the point that it prevented me from becoming emotionally invested with either of the characters. To be fair, this is not a problem that's unique to The Fault In Our Stars, though - it's a stumbling block that I have encountered several times before in YA literature.
What it does really well is illustrates how immensely trying it must be to be a sick teenager, be it with cancer or any chronic disease. I believe John Green drew on his experiences of working as a chaplain at a childrens' hospital to write the novel, and he has certainly made plenty of astute and unsentimental observations about the realities of living with illness. At just the age when you should be finding your independence and forging a groove for yourself in the world, you are forced to rely more heavily on the adults around you than ever. A 16-year-old is legally allowed to get married or join the army but when it comes to making decisions about their own healthcare the law is complex. They can give consent to medical care but if they want to refuse a particular treatment their wishes can be overridden by their parents or doctors. It's no wonder that Hazel talks about herself and her fellow Cancer Kids as feeling experimented on. And she's got the extra burden of guilt of knowing that her parents have to forgo treats and holidays because of the costs of her medication and care.
The tragic relationship between Hazel and Augustus is what this book is all about - there's a slightly strange side-story about taking a trip to Amsterdam to meet Hazel's favourite author, but other than that there is not much plot to speak of. It's for that reason that I think so much of a reader's enjoyment of this novel will depend on their own personal world view and experiences of cancer, illness, and losing loved ones. The subject matter is so emotive that it's bound to provoke an almost visceral response that runs much deeper than any assessment of the words on the page. It wasn't for me, but you can't argue with the widespread acclaim it has received that shows it has tugged on the heart-strings of many.
I got my copy of this book through the Spinebreakers Pass It On Competition. I loved the idea of forming a book chain and think it's such a great promotional strategy, but the timing just wasn't right - the book arrived about a week before Christmas when I was working ALL the hours, and the closing date for entry was 4th Jan. But I feel really bad that I've got a free copy of the book and not used it for the purpose it was given, so if anyone wants my copy just send me an e-mail or something. As long as you pass it on to someone else afterwards!