This is not a cancer book. Yes, some of the characters have cancer, but that does not make this a cancer book.
This is a book about intricate, complicated, young characters. Very quickly I found myself forming an attachment to the people Green created – Hazel and Augustus in particular, of course.
It is the teens who steal the show, since they are the most clearly drawn. Confident and articulate – sometimes slightly beyond the point of believability – they prove to be more together in the face of their own mortality than their parents.
Switching from comedy to tragedy and back again in the turn of a page takes skill, and Green has plenty of it. Terminal illness is a theme in fiction that can easily lapse into cliché, but Green handles it sensitively and with refreshingly frank humour. There is a certain amount of meta-fiction too: writer-character Peter van Houten talks and writes about writing. If only his novel, ‘An Imperial Affliction’, was real.
The story is, essentially, about knowing what will happen: the characters more or less know their fates at the beginning of the book. At first I found myself naively hoping for some deus ex machina to prevent the inevitable. Then came a moment (getting out of a lift in Amsterdam) when the rest of the plot became suddenly clear, and the assumptions I had made up to that point were turned on their head. It was shocking and I found myself shaking my head as the realisation dawned. But by the end I had grown to accept the changed plot, thanks to the philosophical wisdom of the characters.
Hope, denial, acceptance. This is a book that carries reader and characters along together, and it’s well worth the ride.
In 2007 two brothers, John and Hank Green, decided to avoid all textual communication with each other for a year. Instead of letters, emails and texts they spoke to each other via video blogs uploaded to YouTube. They called the project Brotherhood 2.0.
Six years later and they are two of YouTube’s most influential vloggers. Their original channel – vlogbrothers – has expanded, and they now run a host of other channels and websites. Their more than 600,000 subscribers call themselves ‘Nerdfighters’. In the days of Brotherhood 2.0 they set challenges for the brothers, but over the years Nerdfighteria and its influence has grown.decided to avoid all textual communication with each other for a year. Instead of letters, emails and texts they spoke to each other via video blogs uploaded to YouTube. They called the project Brotherhood 2.0.
(Aside: Nerdfighters fight for nerds.)
John Green, one half of the vlogbrothers, is a young adult fiction writer and has published six novels. His most recent book – ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ – was promoted and publicised on the vlogbrothers channel, and this is how I first heard about it.
Nerdfighters contributed to the book with title suggestions and cover designs. We watched him sign all 150,000 pre-orders over several arm-aching months. (Sadly a mistake involving Amazon meant that my pre-order is unsigned, but John Green is working on signed bookplates for unfortunates like me. As if he hasn’t already signed enough!)
Without a doubt it is unusual to discover an author by first watching him dance and wax his own chin (the early challenges were quite harsh), but this has led me to a fantastic writer and a fascinating book. The internet and social media is increasingly connecting everything with everything else – videos, books, music, films, TV, blogs – and this, as the vlogbrothers would say, is awesome.
– gildius –