Most helpful critical review
84 of 96 people found the following review helpful
on 15 January 2013
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. 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.
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 in the UK 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.